Written February 2020
Our Brother’s Legacy
It was my brother Ted Watkins’ dream to retire early and open a used bookstore on the Oregon coast. It was never his dream to die early and leave his bookstore to his sisters. But that is where we landed.
The story begins in Portland, Oregon where Ted was the first-born and only son of Jim and Helen Watkins. Four daughters followed: Teri, Traci, Toni and Tami. The 5-T’s. Ted was our sibling leader. Academically, spiritually, emotionally. He was the standard our teachers measured each sister against. Suffice it to say that none of us attained his level of success in the classroom or professionally. Although any one of us could match him in wit, so said each of us!
As children, we led the quintessential, idyllic life on Pembroke Court in Milwaukie, a suburb of Portland. Ted often orchestrated neighborhood carnivals in our backyard. We would ride our bikes to Super King grocery to buy penny candy with money mom would front us. We made flyers to advertise to the kids on the surrounding streets. These carnivals were quite elaborate; there were games like go fish for prizes, fortune tellers, card games and more. We even sold hot dogs. At the end of each day, Ted would take all the money and divvy it up. One coin or bill for each of us girls and four for himself. And mom was never paid back.
Dad owned Hurley’s Dairy and had Ted up early on weekends to deliver milk to local stores. Ted spent his money on Mad magazines, baseball cards and books. His room was full of boxes of his collections. He was a voracious reader. But he was not just a “nose always in the books” type of person. He was multifaceted - - a well-rounded kid, playing three sports at LaSalle High, all the while maintaining excellent grades.
After high school Ted attended Catholic Seminary for a single semester. He said the faculty was not too keen on his frequent, albeit secret, poker parties in one of the dorm meeting rooms. Ted quickly realized he didn’t have “the calling” and enrolled at Portland State University. After his undergraduate degree he left for law school at Villanova, outside Philadelphia, selling his beloved baseball collection to finance what scholarships did not cover. He was the apple of my dad’s eye and the pride of our mom. And let me tell you that his sisters could not have been prouder of him either.
While a clerk for a Philadelphia judge, Ted and another student devised a plan for automating court filings against bankrupt credit card holders on behalf of credit card banks. Previously such debt, generally under $1500, was not worth the cumbersome effort it took to try and collect. But automation was a key. Ingenious and cutting edge. While there were some very lean start up years when payroll was met using his own credit cards, Ted persisted. He eventually grew his law firm, Becket and Watkins, from a handful lawyers and clerks to hundreds of employees. Ted was not always the easiest person to work for or live with (just ask his sisters). Ted had a way with secretaries and not at all in the “me too” sort of way. He hired and let go secretaries - - like 17 of them in the course of a few years. Think Murphy Brown. My brother was a tad bit, impatient, sometimes forgetting the “p’s and q’s” we know my mom taught him. If he wanted something now, he meant yesterday!
While in Philly, Ted’s love of fine food, spirits and shopping was honed. He was so generous to his sisters. We all got cell phones from him way back in 1990! We learned good things come in turquoise Tiffany boxes. If Mom could not decide which dessert to pick at a restaurant, he would have them bring her one of everything.
But as successful as he was, he longed to get back to Oregon to fulfill his dream of opening a bookstore. At age 38 he sold his position in his practice and retired - - much to the dismay, yet pleasure, of our dad who was still himself working six days a week.
While Ted had amassed a very large collection of books throughout the years, he set out to buy more books from estates, auctions and booksellers across the world. He looked for the perfect location for his bookstore and settled on the picturesque town of Gold Beach, Oregon. He decided to use part of his retirement nest egg to build a fantastic, two-story, 10,000 square foot building right on Highway 101. He designated space for books, including a Rare Book room, community meeting rooms and a coffee shop. And no surprise, he also had a private poker room! It took nearly two years to build and staff. On a blustery fall day in October of 2003 Gold Beach Books opened for business. We were all there, having made the nearly six hour trek down from Portland. My two primary grade school boys were in Heaven down there; Uncle Ted named Theo the director of maintenance (he asked for a job that would give him the most number of keys) and Alex was deemed the head of security (a no brainer since he was already a “real superhero”). We were all frequent visitors to Gold Beach Books throughout the years. Most school breaks and summer months were spent going to and from Gold Beach. We all enjoyed the kind of carefree summers that you read about in books. Mornings at the coffee shop then working the bookstore cash register; afternoons fishing from the shores of the mighty Rouge River and movie nights and Ted’s home, Camp Esther, just south of town in Pistol River.
Ted was active in the community. He was a volunteer Pistol River fire director; he was Rotary President. He hosted numerous events, receptions and book signings. He was even active in the city of Brookings’ community theater where he met and formed a friendship with retired Oscar winning director Elmo Williams (credits include High Noon, Sound of Music). He became fast friends with several other local celebrities including the retired Rodney King trial sheriff John Gillespie and Boston Red Sox hall of famer Bobby Doerr, just to name a few. He loved that town and its people. And suffice it to say they loved Ted.
When staffing the coffeehouse became a challenge, Ted decided to lease the space to one of his employees and focus on the bookstore operations.
My brother was 100% old school. No surprise that the vast majority of his 75k books are not cataloged and not on any sort of inventory system. He wanted to create a thrill-of-the-hunt environment where customers could be delighted to find a hidden gem, a collector grade novel, a cherished book from childhood. A place you could spend hours in and lose all sense of time. Ted kept reading nooks throughout the store and large chairs on the second floor where readers could sit and gaze out at the Pacific Ocean.
Ted prided himself on a “no stinky books” policy. He might buy less than desirable books from locals but would have zero plans to sell them in his store. He was generous like that, not wanting to upset people.
Walking into Gold Beach Books is not like walking into most used bookstores. Two stories with a large atrium that floods light into the showroom. An elevator! Whoop whoop. That was a big deal in town. The smells are of coffee and delicious baked goods. No wonder it has grown to be the second largest used bookstore in Oregon, behind the Portland gem, Powell’s Books.
To make it financially through the slow and long Oregon coast winters when tourism is at a low, Ted started listing books on an internet book sited called Abe.com where on any given day the store has 3,500 volumes listed for sale.
Along the way, we lost our Dad and Mom, and two of us lost our husbands. But we always had Ted to turn to in our sorrows. To give us comfort, advice and solace. He could make the trip from Gold Beach to Portland in 5 hours, and he made that trip so many, many times. For nieces and nephews birthdays and graduations. Any family milestone, he was there.
Sometime in early 2015 Ted started complaining of stomach pain and indigestion. We suspect he had suffered in silence for many years as he absolutely hated going to the doctor. When tests came back indicating he had esophageal cancer, we were all shocked. I remember exactly where I was when he called to tell me the news. He said he had researched and found that it was a tougher cancer to beat but that he was going to put up a strong fight. And he didn’t want anyone outside his immediate family to know of his plight. He went through rounds of treatments with my sister Traci constantly at his side and nurse sister Tami navigating behind the scenes. By September 2016 he was weeks away from his one-year check up to be deemed cancer free. But sadly, he learned the cancer had spread.
By this time, Ted had for all intents and purposes moved to my sister Toni’s home so he could have access to a wider medical community. Ted’s manager, Carloyn Trigueiro, operated the bookstore in Ted’s absence; faithfully keeping his diagnosis a secret until Ted begrudgingly gave her the ok to start telling people.
We enjoyed only one last Christmas with our brother. Ted died on January 17, 2016.
His 58 years on this earth were packed with many experiences, laughter and cherished relationships, with his strong love of God woven throughout his entire life. The last 18 months of Ted’s life gave him great cause for reflection. I kept a text from him that simply read,
“God’s will be done in all things. I am very blessed.”
Ted was a lifelong bachelor and bequeathed his bookstore to his sisters. None of us shared Ted’s extreme connection with books; nonetheless, we wanted to see how we could make his legacy live on. We still have Carolyn at the helm in Gold Beach and she guides the store at every step as only she can do.
Little has changed since Ted’s death other than we have come to realize that Ted’s legacy is so much more than a bookstore. His legacy lives in each of us who were greatly touched with his love, humor, spirit and generosity. In going through Ted’s things, we learned how generous he truly was. He gave away most of his fortunes, silently and thoughtfully well before his diagnosis with cancer. At the end he forgave everyone of any personal debt owed to him. What an example he left for us to try and emulate.
Should you wonder if we will ever run out of books, fear not. Just as I’m sure my brother never really wanted to sell any of his books nor did he plan to die early, he never planned to leave us with hundreds of boxes of books and memorabilia to go through. We found boxes under every single table in the store as well as every closet and storage area. We found them in climate-controlled trailers and in offsite storage. All left to be opened across a lifetime. Sadly, a life cut too short.
A few years ago we listed the bookstore for sale, hoping to find a buyer who shared Ted’s sense that a bookstore can truly be a heartbeat for a community. Early on we received a low-ball offer that would have left the town without a bookstore, so without hesitation we declined. Even retrospectively, that was the right decision.
We have not had a lot of success in marketing the business yet we persevere. We keep up on building maintenance (including a recent $19k elevator repair) and have made a small profit most years. In all honesty, the last four years has taken a toll on all of us sisters. Our focus is not 100% bookstore centric. We have lives hundreds of miles from his store, now our store. That is still hard to write let along wrap our head’s around. Two of my sisters are much more entrenched in the stores operations than the two others. But we all step up as we can. Our tempers get tested as we try to do the right thing with the bookstore. We have different perspectives and ideas on how to go forward. But we are in absolute lock step that this will not break us as a family unit.
We will continue forward, thankful that the world is coming back around to appreciating having a good old fashioned book held in their hands instead of an e-copy. We remain hopeful that someone will come along to carry on the tradition and even enhance the bookstore’s offerings. It’s a huge building with lots of potential to grow additional business ventures as well maintaining a bookstore.
In the meantime, we will work to increase our internet presence as well as do our part in trying to get consumers to support local, independent booksellers. Our social media presence is lacking but you can follow us on facebook and find us at www.goldbeachbooks.com. And if there is a book or two you’d like to purchase from us we would truly be indebted.
And rest assured, we will forever and ever remain in solidarity as the 5-T’s.
~Teri Watkins Peterson