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Ending the chapter
Fireside Books to close after more than two decades on Monroe’s Square
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Kathi Spaeth, Monroe, will close Fireside Books July 1 after running it for two decades. The bookstore contains used books Spaeth had carefully been curating throughout the years. - photo by Marissa Weiher

MONROE — After operating Fireside Books for two decades, Kathi Spaeth will be closing her doors this summer. Prior to the bookstore, Spaeth taught elementary school and worked as a graphic designer.

“This is just the best fit I’ve ever had,” Spaeth said. 

In 1999, Spaeth was visiting Monroe with family at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern when her sister told her there was a bookstore around the corner for sale. Spaeth said when she peered through the window she was breathless.

“It was just amazing,” Spaeth said, referencing the former space on the southwest side of the downtown Square. 

This is just the best fit I’ve ever had.
Kathi Spaet

Although she didn’t have any retail experience, Spaeth bought the business July 1, 1999 confident she would be successful. She operated Fireside Books from what’s now Art Haus Ink and moved to the store’s current location on 15th Avenue in 2007. 

Spaeth was drawn because of her love of books into purchasing the bookstore. She was an English major in college. 

“With an English background, you know who you want on a shelf,” Spaeth said. 

Spaeth spent years weeding through the inventory and carefully selecting unique and classic books from thrift stores and book sales to the point where now she says the store has become a reflection of her. 

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From left, Pat Ottaway, Kathi Spaeth and Larry Phillips, all of Monroe, visit over coffee at Fireside Books Feb. 7. Friends usually stop by Thursday afternoons to discuss books. - photo by Marissa Weiher

She said once she bought the store, she found herself drifting farther away from fiction and closer to memoirs and history books. Spaeth said fiction is a category that’s important to contain, otherwise it’ll “grow out of control.” While with history books, “it’s hard to hold onto the really good stuff,” she said.

Though her friends might disagree, Spaeth said she considers herself an introvert, but finds it surprisingly easy to talk to people one-on-one at the store. She’s befriended people from all over and said she’s had a lot of customers return with their families every year.

On Thursday afternoons, while Spaeth spends days in her workroom at the bookstore quilting, friends will stop by with coffee and converse about books. It has turned into a tradition throughout the years. 

Monroe resident Larry Phillips, a regular attendee of Thursday afternoon coffee, said he will miss the store once it’s closed.

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Kathi Spaeth has spent years curating the inventory at Fireside Books by selecting different books at thrift stores and book sales. All the books in the store are currently half price until the store closes July 1. - photo by Marissa Weiher

“It’s a great bookstore and Kathi does a great job,” Phillips said. 

After being open for two decades, Spaeth said the large online retailer Amazon, and the company’s handheld devices on which to read electronic books called Kindles, definitely had an effect on the business. One of the biggest effects has been a noted drop in young people making their way to the bookstore. But Spaeth said it’s like an antique store; there are still customers who value holding a book. 

“It’s still a high when people come in and spend a lot of time back here and come up front with a big stack of books,” Spaeth said. 

The most rewarding part of the bookstore for Spaeth has been meeting so many interesting people.

It’s a great bookstore and Kathi does a great job.
Larry Phillips

“I wish I was Richard Nixon and had a tape recorder going the whole time,” Spaeth joked about all of the fascinating stories she’s heard throughout the years.

Fireside Books is open Wednesdays and Sundays or whenever the open sign is out. Because of the closure, everything in the store is 50 percent off. Spaeth plans to continue selling some books at the Monroe Antique Mall after the store closes July 1.

Spaeth said she’s ready to let the business go and feels like it’s the perfect time to do so.

“This was the surprise of my life,” Spaeth said.  “That I’ve made so many friends here.”