By Ellen Spitaleri
“I really love connecting with people and learning what they are looking for. I love helping people get what they need and seeing how it empowers them,” said Amanda Doimas, owner of Backstory Books & Yarn, 3129 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Doimas had been a knitter for a long time and when she thought about opening a used bookstore, she was intrigued by the idea of adding yarn. Most people are familiar with used bookstores and trading books for credit towards other books. Doimas does the same with yarn, knitting needles, crochet hooks, spinning wheels and other fiber-related gear.
“It seemed a good fit to me and I knew that my knitting friends and I had such hoards of yarn with no place to send it back out into the world for other knitters,” Doimas said. “I hadn’t thought it would be so novel when I put it together, but it turns out it was a genius idea,” she said. “I see knitters, crocheters and weavers light up when I explain the used yarn idea to them. It is delightful to have so much interesting vintage and discontinued yarn coming into the shop.”
Doimas opened Backstory, her first bookstore, in a building at the Carts on Foster food cart pod in 2014, then moved to SE 60th and SE Foster Blvd.
In the summer of 2018, she added the concept of a fiber-arts exchange when she moved the shop to the previous home of Hawthorne Boulevard Books. The best thing about the location on Hawthorne “is being in a space that was Hawthorne Boulevard Books for about 35 years,” Doimas said.
She noted that there was a time in the 1980s and 1990s when there were almost a dozen bookstores on the street. “I love the tradition of places that cater to a trade and it thrives, with so many shops and dealers,” Doimas said.
Being a business owner without a business background is a situation she has found to be challenging. Also, she considers herself an anti-capitalist at heart and added that she could be making more money selling things other than used books and yarn. “But I just don’t think I could live with myself. I always see myself in the poor students that come in looking for cheap books they can afford; it isn’t good business, but I try to provide a little something for everyone.”
Doimas said that there are about 10,000 books in the shop, so it is obvious that she cannot have read all of them. However, she does try to familiarize herself with as many as possible, often by reading just two or three pages of a book to gain an understanding of it. She specializes in books by Black authors, nautical books and fiber-arts related books because she wants to be responsive to what her customers are looking for.
Personally, she has found herself reading more mysteries, because “when the world outside seems difficult and demoralizing, there is always a tidy solution to comfort me at the end.” She also likes to read books of essays, as they are one-on-one conversations with the author.
“My favorite thing about bookstores is the serendipity of finding things on the shelf that I didn’t know I was looking for. You go to a shelf looking for something and then another book speaks to you in some uncanny way.”
She believes part of the magic of bookstores is that they reflect the personality of their owners, who choose the books. Doimas added, “Going into other bookstores, I feel like I’m entering a conversation with the shelves of books, learning through the books that were chosen and those that are missing.”
Backstory is open Wednesday-Monday, 12-6 pm; closed Tuesday.
Backstory Books & Yarn
3129 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
The cozy interior of Backstory Books & Yarn showcases shelves of used books and buckets of yarn and other fiber supplies. Photo by Amanda Doimas.