Monday, April 05, 2004

Volunteers keep Burns bookstore open
Without help, The Book Parlor would have been shuttered for a month after its owner broke her leg



BURNS -- When a badly broken leg laid up Janice Morefield a while back, folks in this isolated high-desert town faced the dreary prospect of life without her little bookstore.

So the townspeople of Burns, population 3,000, decided to run it for her.

Thirteen volunteers have kept The Book Parlor operating for almost two months since Morefield, 47, slipped in an icy parking lot Feb. 4 while getting milk for the store's espresso machine.

"I would have been closed at least a month, for sure," a grateful Morefield says. "There were a lot of people that stepped forward."

After surgery in Bend for a spiral fracture to her right leg, she was ordered off the injured limb until it healed. Even before she left the hospital, people were offering to help.

"A good bookstore is a real luxury in a small town," says Laurie O'Connor, 50, who lives on the Double O Ranch near Burns and organized the volunteers. "It's a little spot of civilization in the middle of the desert."

Another volunteer, Claire Larson, 50, who mushes sled dogs for fun, says The Book Parlor has become an essential place for coffee and conversation. Everybody worried that Morefield might have to permanently close if she was out too long, she says.

"This is a business we really wanted to see continue in this community," Larson says. "How do you keep a store closed that long? How do you pay the bills? Some people were coming in and saying, 'Maybe we will buy our Christmas presents now.' "

The Book Parlor closed the day of Morefield's accident and the next day. But by Feb. 6, it was operating on a half-day schedule, says Morefield, who has run it for 21/2 years. Volunteers did most of the work, sometimes assisted by Morefield's husband, Steve , 49, son Brett , 17, and daughter, Kelee , 13.

The toughest part was learning to operate the Italian espresso machine that contributed to Morefield's accident, O'Connor says.

"Everybody would recoil with the thought of blowing up the whole place with the backlog of espresso pressure," she says.

Another difficulty: special orders for books that Morefield didn't have in stock. The problem was solved when The Book Parlor's former owners, Tracee McGee and Ramona Bishop showed volunteers how to do it, O'Connor says.

The Book Parlor's biggest trade is in children's books, followed by Oregon history, fiction and -- this time of year -- books for bird-watchers, Morefield says.

"I do sell quite a few of the political types of books for an Eastern Oregon town," she says.

Among the big sellers: former first lady Hillary Clinton's autobiography and liberal humorist Al Franken's tome ribbing conservatives.

Sales dropped after the accident, something Morefield attributed to the half-day schedule and the fact that February and March traditionally are slow months.

Morefield returned to work part time March 29. She says the outpouring of help is typical of people in Burns.

"People come together here," she says. "They are stretched thin, and they just keep giving."

Copyright 2004 Oregon Live. All Rights Reserved.
Volunteers keep Burns bookstore open

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