When Willow Bridge Bookstore closed its doors on August 12, it saddened a lot of people. But none so much as the woman who put her heart and soul into it for the past six years, owner Monica McClanahan.
“I was trying to do too much and I ended up in the hospital,” Monica told SierraNewsOnline. “It was like a wakeup call. I know this sounds funny, but I guess I always thought ‘old people have strokes, old people have heart attacks.’ I know I’m almost 72, but I just didn’t realize that I was one of those old people!”
Monica has always had a passion for books. When she moved to the area from Orange County in 2005, she was disappointed to find that there was no bookstore in Oakhurst.
“I was shocked that I was going to have to drive to Fresno to get to a bookstore,” she recalls. “With all the artistic people that are up here, I thought this was really the perfect place for one, and well, Oakhurst really deserves a bookstore.”
Monica opened Willow Bridge at the end of May, 2006 in the Raley’s Center next door to what was then the Taqueria.
“My intention was to make the bookstore a meeting place in the community. A place where you could come and meet your neighbors and your friends and enjoy an intellectual kind of experience. That was our intent, and I think we pretty well accomplished it.”
Every Saturday at 2:00 there was an event at Willow Bridge, pretty much without exception. People who have written books, painters, hiking experts, gourd painters and photographers – Monica worked hard at providing interesting guests to share their knowledge and their stories. Max Stauffer, Tony Krizan, Peter Cavanaugh and Tim Madden were just a few of the many who responded to her invitations.
“She really went above and beyond to find people to come and talk with us,” said one long-time patron. “Imagine trying to find someone every Saturday for 5 years! She also hosted writers groups and story time for kids, and supported the writers’ conference every year at the Sierra Sky Ranch. She was very passionate about the bookstore.”
When Monica’s lease was up in the Raley’s Center, the store moved over next to Vons for a couple years, and then to their most recent location across from the Days Inn on Highway 41.
“I was hoping that the four hotels would generate some foot traffic, and they did some, but not enough to really make a difference financially.”
Being in the business of selling books is really tough these days, Monica told us.
“There’s the low profit margin associated with it, and of course the e-book business makes things really difficult. We’re squeezed both ways.”
So Monica has spent the last several weeks packing up, returning or selling the many books that have meant so much to her over the years. It has been a bitter-sweet experience, and she has chosen a delightful way of looking at it –
“It’s been pretty sad,” she said. “But the one good thing that’s happened is that so many people have come by and told me how much they appreciated me and the store. That’s been really gratifying, and if I hadn’t closed the store I wouldn’t have had that experience.”
When asked what she will do now with all her “spare time,” Monica said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I may look for a job,” she chuckled. “I don’t know how many people would hire a 72 year old. But I’m doing okay, I think, and I’m not leaving the area, so you will see me around!”
“Monica McClanahan is an exemplary entrepreneur, combining focused dedication with breathtaking perseverance. She did everything exactly right. Applying her obviously polished executive skills with unceasing integrity and brilliant marketing acumen, she is a natural leader, a creative wizard and a terrific human being. Monica is simply — the very best.”