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The end of an era … and start of a new one

UPDATE, 2018
We are back in Red Lodge, but not with a bookstore. Phoenix Pearl Tea is our tea and game business on Broadway, right next door to where Red Lodge Books and Tea was located. Come see us, or order your favorite teas online!

End of an era header

The bookstore Kathy and I purchased in 2001 is closing. For the first time in thirty years, the town of Red Lodge will be without a bookstore. I feel sad and guilty about it, but I also feel giddy and excited about what’s coming. If ever there was a personification of “mixed emotions,” it’s me. Right now.

A group about an hour away in Billings has purchased all of the assets of Red Lodge Books & Tea and hired me to be the General Manager and create a new store for them.

When we bought our store from my friend Randy Tracy, it was a small store smack in the middle of downtown Red Lodge, Montana, right across the street from the iconic Red Lodge Café. It was called the Broadway Bookstore, although I changed the name when I discovered that (a) Broadway Books is trademarked by Random House, and (b) there was an “adult” bookstore called Broadway Books & Videos just an hour away.

When I took over the store, it was mostly used books, and the new books were predominantly local history and guidebooks. Over the next few years, we shifted the focus to be more about new books, finally eliminating the used books entirely when the library a few blocks away started doing monthly used book sales (it’s hard to compete with 25 cent books). We tried many experiments, some of which succeeded wildly (like our tea bar), and some of which flopped horribly (like greeting cards).

The store has been a family affair. I’ve been there full-time and Kathy’s been there part-time for as long as we’ve owned it. Both of our kids have worked at the store (one is still there, as the Tea Bar Manager). When we were publishing the Red Lodge Local Rag, the office was in the back of the bookstore. When the Local Rag book came out last winter, it launched at the bookstore. Our grandson is as comfortable in the store as he is at our house.

Perhaps the greatest thing about the fifteen years we’ve spent running Red Lodge Books & Tea is the people we’ve gotten to meet. The book trade is simply filled with great people, and most of them are eager to share what they know. I’ve learned from other bookstores in Montana, like Chapter One, Fact & Fiction, Country Bookshelf, Montana Book & Toy Company, Thomas Books, Vargo’s Books & Jazz, and Barjon’s Books. I’ve met bookstore owners and booksellers at book conferences all over the West, and they’ve been helpful and friendly.

And then there are the authors.

We’ve had self-published local authors and New York Times bestselling authors, locals and authors from thousands of miles away. We’ve had events where nobody showed up, events so big we had to move them to the library, and events even bigger than that which we had to hold at the Elks. We’ve had events with police protection, parties with free beer & wine, cookbook signings with free food, and midnight Harry Potter parties with lines out the door and down the sidewalk. You want to know where I got a lot of the material for my new book about book signings? Right here!

The toughest part of this whole deal is my feelings that I’m abandoning Red Lodge. For almost fifteen years, Kathy & I have been active parts of the community. Between us, we’ve served on the boards of the Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Merchants Association, Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary, Red Lodge Festival of Nations, Convention & Visitors Bureau, Red Lodge Proud & Beautiful, and Beartooth Elks Lodge. We’ve worked on City committees, the Red Lodge Branding Initiative, and the Christmas Stroll. We’ve sponsored events all over town, and I’ve emceed events all over town. But most of all, we’ve given Red Lodge a place to buy books, hang out with other book lovers, meet authors, and have a great cup of tea. I’m going to miss that.

Kathy’s staying active in many of those downtown groups, but for the next year while I’m getting that co-op up and running in Billings, I won’t be able to. I’m not moving, but I’m not quite staying here, either.

Closing Red Lodge Books & Tea is, indeed, the end of an era. It’s been a good era. And I think the new era is going to be a good one, too. We’ll never be able to fill the gap that Susan Thomas left behind when she retired and closed up Thomas Books, but we’ll do our best to build a thriving bookstore and literary hub right in the middle of downtown Billings. It’s a big challenge, and I’m looking forward to it.

Haiku: Celebrating Beer in Verse

I confess. I’m cheating. I originally wrote this as a column for the Local Rag in November of 2009. The Local Rag is shifting over to a new website, and only keeping the really local stuff, so I decided to intercept this column and run it on my own blog. My column there was called “The Beer Snob,” an idea that came about because of another column in that paper entitled “The Cheapskate Wine Snob,” written by my friend Randy Tracy. As I wrote in my first column:

It may make sense for the “wine snob” to be a cheapskate, but when the price of a really good beer is usually less than twice the price of a crummy cheap beer, it doesn’t pay to be cheap.

Gary Robson with beer

This is the author picture that used to run with my “Beer Snob” columns. That’s a Scottish Ale I’m tasting.

People have been writing poems about beer as long as there has been beer to write poems about. One of the oldest written recipes was found on a set of stone tablets that were inscribed almost 4,000 years ago. The recipe is in the form of a poem called the Hymn to Ninkasi, and it is a recipe for making beer (Ninkasi was the Sumerian goddess of brewing and beer).

In late October, a poet named David Ash came to Red Lodge Books to read his poems and sign his books. He has a dozen books of haiku, including Haiku for Chocolate Lovers, Haiku for Coffee Lovers, Haiku for Tea Lovers, and Haiku for Wine Lovers. He did not, alas, have anything for beer lovers.

In my own modest fashion, I’ve decided to express my thoughts on beer this month in haiku, to fill the glaring gap left by Mr. Ash. Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry consisting of three lines with a fixed number of syllables in each line, forming a 5-7-5 pattern.

Here, then, is my personal commentary on beer, in Haiku form. Enjoy!


Aromatic vines
Sticky buds dry in the sun
Hops add aroma

Harvest the barley
Germinate, dry, and roast it
Malt! For scotch or beer

Small organisms
Turn sugar to alcohol
The yeast makes the beer

How do you unlock
Flavors of malt, hops, and yeast?
Water is the key

Yeast carbonates beer
So can big CO2 tanks
I prefer the yeast


Mash, sparge, decoction
Sounds like serious science
But beer is still art

The hydrometer:
Answering brewers’ question:
How much alcohol?

The fermentation:
The best part of beer-making
Don’t you love the smell?

Beer-contaminating yeast
Now used on purpose

To filter, or not?
A brewers’ tough dilemma
Just not the hefe!


Some like it ice-cold
Brits like it a tad warmer
I just like good beer

Mugs, steins, and glasses
Flutes, tulips, snifters, and pints
Each one affects taste

Have a yard of ale!
It’s a really cool glass, but
A real pain to clean

What size of serving?
A bigger glass saves money
A small glass stays cold

In bottles, in cans
By the pitcher, by the glass
Just keep it coming


Made for sailing ships
High alcohol; lots of hops
Robust I.P.A.

Remove some barley
Add wheat and change strain of yeast
Presto! Hefeweizen

Deep, rich, dark color
Plenty of flavor to spare
Stout: Meal in a glass

Crisp, frothy Coors Light
Not much taste or aroma
Is it really beer?

Lots and lots of malt
Heavy, sweet, aged a long time
That’s a barleywine

Top-fermenting ale,
Bottom-fermenting lager:
I’ll drink either one

Berries in wheat beer,
Rich chocolate in your stout
Fun ingredients

A long, hot workday
Time to unwind and cool off
I’ll have a pilsner


Since this is Haiku
I should mention Asahi,
Sapporo, Kirin

The people of Budweis
Have lost the name Budweiser
To Anheuser-Busch

Haiku for coffee,
tea, wine, cats, dogs, but not beer?
For shame, Mr. Ash!

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