Owner to close struggling Wisebird Bookery in Ogden

Wednesday , May 23, 2018 - 5:15 AM2 comments

OGDEN — A cynic might ask why the psychic didn’t see this one coming.

Wisebird Bookery, the small, independent bookstore that also featured a Grounds for Coffee franchise, is shutting down. The final day for the store, at 4850 Harrison Blvd., will be May 28.

The bookstore was purchased 16 months ago by Tia Varni, a psychic medium who admits she was in over her head.

“I have a business degree, but I just wasn’t prepared for this,” she said.

Varni said there were so many hidden costs in running a bookstore/coffee shop that she was in financial trouble from the start.

“I cry at least once a day,” Varni says of the decision to close the store. “I’ve lost my car, my phone is getting shut off, and I owe $40,000. I’m having to sell my property.”

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It all started two years ago when Varni says she began having recurring dreams about owls. She had no idea what it meant, but believed there was some significance in what the universe was trying to tell her.

Then one evening, Varni found herself at a party, talking with a couple of friends about their hopes and dreams. Varni said she’d always dreamed of opening a “mini Golden Braid” (the small, quirky bookshop in Salt Lake City) where she could “sell books, offer a little coffee, and do my spiritual stuff.”

“This one girl says, ‘I know someone selling your dream pretty cheap,’” Varni recalls.

As it turns out, Margaret and Jennifer Zeemer, then-owners of Wisebird Bookery, were looking to sell. Varni says she knew she couldn’t afford her own business — “My 401(k) didn’t even have that much money in it” — but the next morning, her friend sent her the website link to Wisebird Bookery.

“I was, like, ‘Oh my god, the wise bird — the owl from my dream,’” Varni says. “When I went to look at the business, I got a vision that I was holding the key to the building. Three months later, I owned this.”

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Varni admits she made a lot of mistakes — a LOT of mistakes — in the beginning. She didn’t know how to order inventory. She fell behind on her bookkeeping. She was blindsided by all the hidden insurances, taxes and fees.

And then there was the coffee.

“I don’t even like coffee,” she says. “Not only didn’t I know how to make it, but I didn’t drink it.”

But eventually, Varni says, she got a grip on what she wasn’t doing right. She started budgeting, and things started looking up. And then …

On Jan. 17 of this year, Weber State University opened a new Starbucks kiosk in Tracy Hall, the new science building on the nearby Ogden campus.

“We were doing OK until they put a Starbucks and Einstein’s (Bagels) on campus,” she said. “Why would they do that to us?”

Overnight, Varni said she went from doing as much as $500 a day in business, to less than $200.

“Just like that, everybody was gone,” she said. “Technically, I could stay in business, but I just don’t want to struggle with it anymore.”

Varni said her used-book section has always done well, but new-book sales have struggled in this age of mega-bookstores and online retailers.

“Amazon is wiping us out with books,” she said. “And they’re now doing same-day service. We just can’t compete with that.”

Jerry Tatton, of Hooper, has been a faithful Wisebird Bookery customer over the years. He’s currently attending Weber State, getting his degree “a little later in life.” Tatton says he gets the same drink every day, a Birdicano — which is like an Americano espresso, with honey and cream.

Tatton was saddened to learn of the news of Wisebird closing.

“I knew it’s been struggling, but it came as a bummer,” Tatton said. “It’s been a great place to hang out, do homework and socialize.”

Ryly Fisher, of Clinton, says she frequents all the local coffee shops she can, and she’ll greatly miss Wisebird Bookery. More than anything, Fisher says she’ll miss the “vibe” of the place.

Fisher blames big business for the store closing.

“Small businesses are priced out again,” she said.

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Varni admits it’s difficult to make a living as a small, local business. She’d like to see more people patronize such companies.

“If you don’t support local businesses, we can’t stay,” she said.

Everything in the building is up for sale — the books, the equipment, the furniture.

“Except that couch,” Varni says, pointing to a brown leather sofa across the room. “The couch is going with me. I’m keeping it.”

Anything that doesn’t sell by the 28th, Varni says she’ll move to her home and sell out of her garage.

Varni said Wisebird Bookery will continue in some form — she still sells books to local schools and will continue to run that portion of the business out of her home. She also said she’d consider selling that business if she can find the right buyer. And there’s a possibility that she’ll find another location for her Grounds for Coffee franchise.

On the bright side, the building’s owners are letting Varni out of her lease early; she says the owners want to relocate a sushi restaurant in that space.

Although Varni still owes money on her business, she intends to pay off all her debts and is trying to avoid bankruptcy.

“It’s OK,” she says. “I’ll find the money. It’s just money.”

Despite all the troubles, Varni says she doesn’t regret a single moment. She’ll miss the people more than anything — hanging out in the bookstore and chatting with customers all day — and she’ll miss the books; she loves books.

“I’ve given every penny, every piece of my soul, to this place,” Varni said. “It’s been an amazing ride. But more than anything, I’m just tired.”

But tired or not, Varni’s Wisebird dream doesn’t die so easily — she continues to ponder the what-ifs long after the decision has been made.

“If my rent were even a thousand dollars less ...” she muses, trailing off.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.

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