‘The Next Steward:’ New Bookworm owner Matt Lee takes over independent bookstore with support from Nicole Magistro
After seven years as the sole owner and 18 years at the store, Nicole Magistro is turning over the Bookworm of Edwards to its new owner, Matt Lee. Lee, also an Edwards local, shares Magistro’s love of books and dedication to preserving and sharing the independent bookseller’s legacy.
“I feel really fortunate to be able to play a role in that, and feel honored to be the next steward of this business,” Lee said.
In the beginning
Magistro started working at the Bookworm when she was 23 years old. In the early 2000s, she said, life for young people in the Vail Valley was first and foremost about partying. Though it’s become more accepted now, she didn’t feel like it was okay to be an intellectual here at the time.
“I wanted a place that wasn’t a bar to go hang out. I just wanted a place where there could be an exchange of ideas,” she said.
In her early days at the store, Magistro grew close with cofounders Kathy Westover and Neda Jansen. She joined Jansen as a co-owner in 2005, and Jansen taught her the fundamentals of bookselling. That included the astuteness and attention to detail required to run a retail business, but it was also a lesson in humanity.
Bookselling’s foundation lies in an ability to connect with people, Magistro said. It’s about connecting the right book with the right customer at the right time.
“It’s amazing: the solace you can find in a book, the escape you can find in a book, the understanding. That’s what books are about,” she said.
And that’s why she’s operated the business by what she calls the Grandma Rule.
“It’s kind of an extension of the Golden Rule,” she said. “It extends to every element of what we do.”
That’s why the café menu is curated to satisfy all types of taste buds and dietary preferences. That’s why the bathrooms are sparkling clean, even before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted extra sanitization measures. The Grandma Rule goes to customer interactions: “the personal recommendations that the bookseller makes when you walk into the bookstore and you need refuge and the bookseller sees that in your face and knows how to meet you where you are,” Magistro said.
“That’s how we would want to treat our family. That’s how we would want to treat our grandma.”
National business stories, especially in the tech industry, usually place one behemoth figure at the helm of the brand: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs are synonymous with Tesla, Amazon and Apple. Naturally, owning a small business is much different than running a multi-billion-dollar international corporation, but The Bookworm of Edwards was never about Magistro, or the owners before her or Lee after her.
“It really is a lot more about connecting with people, and that’s one of the things I saw in Matt. He has a tremendous vision for what the Bookworm is now and why people love it, and where it can go in the future for its next life,” Magistro said.
To that end, Lee has been diligently learning from Magistro and the rest of the store’s staff. Lee’s career background is in entrepreneurship, and he moved here with his wife and two young kids about a year ago. Though he’s versed in running a business, he’s still working to learn every aspect of bookselling.
That includes details some business owners might overlook: Lee wants to shadow every position and every shift, so he can understand his staff and best serve their needs as well as the businesses’ needs. He said he’s absolutely going to maintain the Bookworm’s commitment to making a positive social impact in the community.
“I try to bring active listening, empathy, compassion, collaboration,” he said. “I’m in learning mode, and I’m trying to learn as much as I can every day.”
Magistro has been helping transition ownership duties to Lee for a few weeks now, and the timeline has been quick. Most of the initial sales talks happened during the early stages of quarantine back in March and April, and paperwork was signed and made official in early August.
The Bookworm has not only established itself as a community space, but its legacy has also permeated the micro-communities within Eagle County. From full-time residents to second homeowners to vacationers, Lee and Magistro agreed that the store makes a place in the hearts of everyone who comes through.
Lee said one of his favorite things to do when on vacation or visiting a new place is to head to the local independent bookstore. It’s one of the best ways to get a glimpse into that place’s personality, values and culture, he said.
Like many readers, his love of books started at a young age. He grew up spending hours in libraries and bookstores with his mother, also an avid reader. He is honored to be able to use the Bookworm as a way to help grow that love in others, just as he’s already done with his own kids.
“It’s been one of the greatest joys of my life, sharing a love of reading with them. I love seeing that spark, and it’s been a pleasure helping them find that,” he said.
Though the sale is bittersweet for Magistro, she’s made a lot of peace with it, especially since she’s had the business on the market for three years.
“I have a child, so I don’t say this lightly, but my child is 9, and I’ve been working at the Bookworm for 18 years. It’s kind of like sending it off to college,” she said. “I’m really excited to see the Bookworm launch into its adulthood.”
And Jansen said the same thing to Magistro years ago when she was transitioning out of her ownership role.
“You’re going to have this sadness and this grief about it, but you’re also going to have this freedom,” Magistro recalled Jansen saying.
Magistro is staying in the Vail Valley and is starting a new chapter in her life to focus on family and personal goals. She’ll still be at the Bookworm, but now as a customer.
She’s confident that Lee will be able to lead the Bookworm through a new phase of connecting the Vail Valley with books, and Lee sees that responsibility as a huge honor.
“(The Bookworm) has such a long reputation of being a warm and welcoming place where anybody can go and find something that they find interesting. It really seems as though it’s become indispensable to the community. It’s one of those things that it would be hard to imagine it not being here,” he said. “I’m open to feedback and suggestions, because this is not for me, it’s for everyone.”