One day in 1986, Carl Ashford walked into a bookstore in Berkley, California, and was hired.
“That’s how it started,” Ashford said.
On another day in 1987, Ashford walked into a bookstore in San Francisco and met Amanda Lynch. These days, Ashford and Lynch both walk into Jackson Street Booksellers, the store they own together, at 11 a.m., seven days a week.
Jackson Street Booksellers, located in the Old Market, is a bookstore filled with shelves, nooks and tables of used, rare and out of print books. There are piles of books on the floor, stacks on the front desk and ladders reaching books that touch the ceiling. The store, which Lynch agreed could be described as “organized chaos,” is a colorful maze filled with literature – from science, to architecture, to history, to art.
Before their sprawling bookstore came to be, Ashford and Lynch spent time traveling together and buying books with the plan to one day open a bookstore in San Francisco, Ashford said. When his mother became ill, however, both Ashford and Lynch moved to Omaha so that Ashford could take care of his mother. The intention, Lynch said, was to continue buying books and return to San Francisco.
Then a friend came into the picture and “made on offer that couldn’t be refused” on a very low rent price for a building in which Lynch and Ashford could open their store. Although they did not want to open a store in Omaha, Lynch said, they could not pass up the price, and Jackson Street Booksellers opened its doors in July 1993.
Neither Ashford nor Lynch expected to own a bookstore when they were in their teens or 20s – rather, it was something that each of them found as they went along. Prior to working at a bookstore, Ashford had been involved in the “music scene” and worked for a record distributor in Berkley, California.
“Once I started working at this bookstore, it just felt like this is what I liked to do. I was lucky,” Ashford said. “I think luck is probably key in this life.”
Lynch, for her part, was also working in a bookstore when she met Ashford. Previously, she had been involved in a “hodge-podge of things” after graduating from college with a degree in liberal arts. She considered attending graduate school but it “wasn’t in the cards” for her, she said.
“I had a feeling I wasn’t going to earn a lot of money,” Lynch said with a laugh. “It wasn’t one of my goals. My goal was to just know things and I figured I could work from there.”
Twenty-five years later, Jackson Street Booksellers is still located in its original location at 1119 Jackson Street in Omaha, although the store has expanded twice.
Ashford said they have learned how to buy, sell and run their business as they’ve gone along. A 15-year-long employee of Jackson Street Booksellers, Sarah, who graduated with a poetry degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, is considered an “expert” on knowing what kind of books to buy, according to Ashford. Running the business is a “learning process, like everything,” he said.
As to how many books the store has, Ashford said “one less, apparently,” as he rang up a bright yellow manual for a 1961 Corvair, roughly 3-inches thick and the size of a textbook. The store, Ashford guessed, has about 100,000 books organized by genre and author.
“We always knew we wanted to have a general shop, books for everybody – from $3 paperbacks to five thousand-dollar collectibles,” Ashford said. “And we’ve continued to do that.”