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Manager of Boonsboro bookstore named bookseller of the year

BOONSBORO — There are those who believe bookstores — the ones that offer reading material in the paper and ink variety — will one day go the way of vinyl records.

Bookstores will become dinosaurs.

Hardcovers and paperbacks will vanish from the shelves and the space will become little more than a cafe and digital connection point, or worse, another empty retail box with black-covered windows.

E-books and e-readers are what the public want, doom sayers proclaim. And the small players — the neighborhood bookshops — will eventually be squeezed out of the picture.

They obviously don’t know much about the customer who supports those small businesses, Janeen Solberg will tell you.

There is the satisfaction of walking into a room filled with a tumble of books — a place where you can relax, browse and be reminded of a good story.

It’s a place where a knowledgeable staff can discuss your literary preferences and make the right recommendations.

And, here, you can experience the tactile pleasure of reading a real book — “the color, the art, the texture,” Solberg said.

As manager of Turn the Page Bookstore, housed in a pre-Civil War townhouse along Boonsboro’s North Main Street, Solberg said there is a special relationship between the independent shop and those who step through its doors.

It’s a place to buy books, of course, but it’s much more, she noted.

It’s a community gathering place, where you can get a cup of coffee, be part of a book club, purchase unique gift items made by local artisans and even enjoy an occasional Girls’ Night Out, with hand treatments, champagne and the opportunity to mingle with writers and craftspeople.

The shop, owned by Bruce Wilder, husband of award-winning author Nora Roberts, also is known for its regular book signing events, featuring Roberts and other best-selling writers.

It’s not an easy job making it all happen seamlessly.

But it’s a job Solberg loves and does well — so well, in fact, that she recently was named the Steffie Walker Bookseller of the Year, a recognition given annually by the Romance Writers of America.

The national award honors the one individual who provides outstanding service to romance readers and demonstrates notable support of romance authors and the romance genre, according to RWA’s website.

Solberg will receive her award at the 2012 RWA Conference in Anaheim, Calif., next month. More than 2,100 published and aspiring romance writers, editors, agents and other industry professionals are expected to attend the event.

“I’m incredibly proud to receive this award and represent Turn the Page Bookstore — not only Nora and Bruce, but our staff,” Solberg said. “We’re a small team. But we have a big love of romance. We value the industry and the bricks and mortar stores that are putting books into the hands of readers and providing a sense of community in our neighborhood — be it the streets of Boonsboro or our friends around the globe.”

Love of books began young

Solberg doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t enjoy books and, according to her mother, started reading at a very young age.

“But the book that triggered reading as a daily habit for me was a story called ‘The Toothpaste Millionaire’ by Jean Merrill,” she said.

Solberg eventually moved on to the Trixie Belden mystery series, books she calls “the Nancy Drew for country kids.” But as a teenager, “my cousin handed me my first stack of Harlequin romances and I was hooked. What wasn’t to love? Spunky, adventurous young women trying to find their way in the world. Throw in handsome, experienced men who adore these heroines just the way they are with all their flaws, and you’ve got happiness in the making.”

With a love of the written word, it was only natural that Solberg would get her master’s degree in literature and become a high school English teacher.

Solberg said she has always been drawn to bookstores, especially small independents.

“When I decided to leave teaching to raise our children, I found myself on the local library board with Nora’s husband, Bruce Wilder,” the Boonsboro resident recalled. “We hit it off and that turned into just the kind of part-time job that fit my schedule at the time.”

Over the years, Solberg became more involved in the operation of the store, including planning the numerous book signing events, leading the store’s book club, maintaining the Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb subscription service and working hard to promote the Shop Local movement in the community.

She has learned to wear many hats at Turn the Page — from coffee maker to event organizer. But all aspects of the job are rewarding, she said.

Solberg especially is proud of the Turn the Page Book Club, which, she said, “has been a real joy to me. We meet faithfully on the second Wednesday of each month at 1 p.m. We don’t bother with food or wine, which I know is rare, but we devour our books and have wonderfully lively discussions. About once a year, we try to work in a book where I can have the author attend the meeting and join in the discussion with us. Aside from being interesting, this is a learning opportunity for the reader and the author.”

The longest standing tradition at the store is the book signings featuring Roberts and at least five other authors. The events typically draw several hundred people.

“Our job is to connect readers with writers and our book signings are a consistent way for us to accomplish this,” she said. “A reader may come for one author, but find herself introduced to a new love.”

While the store carries a wide genre of books and welcomes requests from customers, romance remains one of the most popular reads, she said, especially with all of the subgenres of romance — historical, paranormal, classic romance, contemporary, magic and more.

Many of the authors of those books develop a special relationship with Turn the Page, she said. Some start out as customers and contact the store when they have written a book. Others call and ask to sign stock.

When she’s not reading or working with books, Solberg said she enjoys community service.

“I’m on the Boonsboro Town Council and serve as co-chair for the Boonsboro Green Fest,” she said. “When I carve out enough time, I enjoy creating pottery and have a small pottery shed in the old summer kitchen behind our home.”

Solberg said she’s come a long way from “The Toothpaste Millionaire” — even though she did track down the book and now carries it in the young reader section of Turn the Page “as a reminder of how reading really does open doors.”

Today, “it’s mostly literary fiction for me,” she said. “But, like clockwork, every few books I get itchy for a good romance. And I know just where to find one.”