OAKHURST – The owner of Oakhurst’s only independent bookstore has decided to start a new chapter in life.
Local bibliophiles need not panic — Branches Books & Gifts is “definitely not closing.” But the popular bookstore is officially “on the market,” says owner Anne Driscoll, who confirms she’s decided to turn the page in her personal life.
“I just want to make it really clear to people that I’m not closing the store,” Driscoll says. “I don’t want people around the community freaking out.”
Driscoll, who opened Branches in the summer of 2013, says she’s spent a year agonizing over the decision to sell.
“This has probably been the most exciting chapter in my life. When I was small I was obsessed with books, libraries, book stores.”
Before making the leap into small business ownership, Driscoll spent nearly 20 years working as a cosmetics manager for Longs Drug and marketing executive for Whole Foods.
While running Branches, she’s also found the time to generously volunteer her considerable energy in the community, including sitting for three years on the board of the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce.
Driscoll’s ‘aha’ moment came in 2012 after Willow Bridge Books closed.
She says she “couldn’t stand” to see Oakhurst without its own bookstore. “So I got a business plan together and decided to make my dream come true.”
And in making Branches such a vibrant part of the community, Driscoll has also helped make many other area residents’ literary dreams come true.
But while she was building Branches, her husband Brad, a battalion chief with the Fresno Fire Department, was driving to the Valley.
“Brad has made the commute to Fresno almost every day since we moved here nine years ago,” Driscoll says. “The drive is really getting to be a lot for him.”
Meanwhile, Driscoll’s daughter Sandra, who was 11 when Branches opened, is now a junior in high school.
“She’s 17, thinking about college and becoming a little more entrepreneurial — like her mama. So as with all things, life begins nudging your dreams in new directions.”
The family’s house in Oakhurst is currently for sale and Driscoll, who grew up in Clovis, says she’s already looking for the perfect house near Old Town.
As for the business, she’s already been approached by at least one “very serious” potential local buyer.
“My plan right now is to continue on with business as usual and events as planned while we search for the perfect person to take the reins of our beloved shop,” even if that means commuting between the Valley and Oakhurst every day until a sale takes place.
“We’ve also got jewelry, plush toys, games, candles, cards — even a ton of funky socks.”
And there’s also an entire wall of brightly colored women’s bras.
Branches first opened in a smaller space in Junction Plaza and moved to its current, 1,500-square-foot location in the Vons shopping center in August of 2016.
“When we were in Junction Plaza,” Driscoll says, “customers would come in all the time complaining that there was nowhere in town to buy a good bra. So we started carrying them about five years ago. They sell like crazy.”
Driscoll credits her mother-in-law with naming the store.
“One day, I mentioned that I really love trees and she suggested Branches. We all loved it.”
The store’s Reptile Ron shows and dinosaur-themed birthday parties always draw big crowds to the store and Driscoll says that even in the age of smart phones, social media and Tweet-length attention spans, traditional book sales have remained robust.
“Michele Obama’s book Becoming has been huge this past year. We do really well with all the current best sellers — or any books tied to popular series on Hulu or Netflix.”
In a letter Driscoll sent this week to the nearly 1,500 customers on Branches’ mailing list, she explained why she is putting the business up for sale — and encouraged anyone interested in taking over to contact her.
“All it takes is someone who is passionate about books and all that they represent, who genuinely loves people and wants to be of service, and who has good judgment and a good sense of what it takes to operate a retail business,” Driscoll wrote. “The reason that we’re contacting you directly is that we know how much you care about the Branches, and perhaps might know someone – even a family member ready for a change of pace – who would enjoy being the owner of our community’s center for literary culture.”
Driscoll says running Branches has been the most exciting chapter in her life.
“While we move toward new goals and dreams, we’ll look forward to supporting the bookshop from the other side of the counter.”
Anyone interested in purchasing the business can contact Driscoll at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (559) 641-2019.