I cannot remember the first time I visited Kelly’s bookstore. I had previously known it as Crossroads Books back in high school. It was within a short walking distance from Pajaro Valley High School, and I had a habit of stopping by after school.
I’d sit in the aisles housing fiction, poetry and the classics, sitting on the floor and admiring the careers of writers I was still discovering. I had decided to become a writer by the time I graduated in 2010, and I promised myself to one day have my book on the shelves of Watsonville’s only bookstore.
Then, while I was attending my MFA in 2016, Crossroads Books—along with other businesses in that shopping center—closed its doors and Kelly’s Books opened across the street later that year.
By that time, I had come to personally know Kelly Pleskunas. It wasn’t too hard given my frequent visits. I eventually mentioned my writing aspirations, and we quickly became friends. She has witnessed my journey, from a junior in high school to an MFA grad student, from an educator for PVUSD to a bookseller at Bookshop Santa Cruz. I moved to Los Angeles a few years ago and now work at a Barnes & Noble. Kelly and I would bond over our bookselling experiences, sharing both frustrations (arguing with folks about Amazon’s prices) and heartwarming interactions (regulars coming in grateful to see a bookstore survive).
I continued to visit her store, bringing my dog with me, who was always excited to visit Kelly because she had treats for her. I made sure to purchase a book every visit I made. And, of course, we would talk about my writing journey, mentioning every piece I published, every work-in-progress, and continuing to promise her to one day have my book on her shelves. She said she looked forward to the day.
Thus, you can only imagine my heartbreak when I heard that Kelly’s Books will close this year. Kelly had posted the news on Facebook, but she took the time to email me personally. She thanked me for having been a good friend all these years and said she would remain open to the public until Nov. 4. We promised each other to keep in touch.
Bookstores are not a dying breed—it’s a little more nuanced than that. But losing one is always a tragedy. Local bookstores become integral members of one’s community. To have one in Watsonville was a blessing. We have seen our loss of businesses and bookstores in Santa Cruz County—Logos being the first to personally come to mind. I was relieved to see Kelly’s Books, Bookshop Santa Cruz, and the more recent Two Birds Books survive the ongoing pandemic. But out of the three of them, it’s Watsonville’s bookstore who could not stay open.
Kelly’s bookstore—whether Crossroads Books or Kelly’s Books—was there when I needed it. I didn’t grow up wanting to become a writer. As a Mexican-American student, I didn’t see myself reflected in the classics, fiction or poetry sections. But I dreamed anyway, and Kelly took note of that dream. She saw that naïve high school student visit her store every chance he had. It helped to have a bookstore I could easily visit without having to journey to Santa Cruz.
When Kelly’s Books opened after Crossroads Books, I still had a chance to get my book on her shelves. But I don’t have one, and Kelly will close her bookstore this year. Watsonville lost its only bookstore, and I missed my chance.
Losing Kelly’s Books is losing a friend we’ve known for over a decade. It’s a blow to our community.
Thank you for giving Watsonville a bookstore, Kelly. Thank you for nurturing that high school student’s dream just by giving him a place to browse and read after school. I’m sorry I never managed to get my book on your shelves.
I hope the people of Santa Cruz will support their remaining local bookstores. I hope they know how lucky they are to have them.
Christopher Soriano-Palma is a Watsonville native now living in Los Angeles. His opinions are his own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.