Emily Peterson believes books should be accessible to everyone – no matter their income level.
Peterson co-owns Page 42 Bookstore with Alicia and Jacob McCann. The bookstore, at 2174 N. Hamilton St., offers a variety of low-cost used books, movies and games.
About 80% of the bookstore’s inventory is $3 or less, and it regularly holds 25-cent book sales to ensure literature is available to all.
“It’s so important to make sure that anyone who is in a difficult situation has access to books, because it can be the most beautiful escape from any situation they are in,” Peterson said. “And in that manner, it can save lives. It’s vital.”
“Books are absolutely the most important part of a difficult childhood,” she continued. “I feel like if you don’t have friends, books can make you feel like you have friends. If you don’t have social skills, books can teach you how to interact with people. Nonfiction books teach us about the world, and fiction books teach us about people.”
Peterson, a Gonzaga University graduate, worked at Page 42 for a year and a half prior to purchasing it from former owners Christina and Stephen Girdner in January 2021.
“The first five months were the craziest, hardest, but most wonderful time ever,” Peterson said. “I was trying to graduate college and get a business – that was trying its best to die – off the ground. We went months without getting paid because we were just pouring money into the business.”
Peterson expanded and organized the bookstore’s inventory and spruced up the interior, making it bright and welcoming.
“The nicer the bookstore got, the more people loved it,” she said. “About halfway through the first year, it just all came together. We were able to use the books that people were bringing to us and that we’re buying from people to do good in the community.”
Page 42 processes about 10,000 books a month and consistently finds ways to make sure they get into peoples’ hands. Peterson and the McCanns held a free book fair earlier in the year, giving away 7,000 books in four days.
Since the summer, Page 42 has provided books to more than 70 Little Free Libraries throughout Spokane, in addition to donating to the Spokane County Jail, Compassionate Addiction Treatment, Unity in the Community, Isaac’s Bookshelf, Joya Child & Family Development and Gonzaga Haven.
“We’re down the street from Gonzaga Haven, and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect audience of kids in need of what we have to offer,” Peterson said. “There’s so many kids in the community that have such a hunger for books, and we’re so blessed to help further that.”
Libby Hartnett, speech and language pathologist at Joya Child & Family Development, said she appreciates Peterson’s efforts to connect children with books.
“Most recently, we are setting up a Little Free Library inside the Joya building, and Emily has agreed to supply it for us,” Hartnett said.
Hartnett added that literacy development is important to the children Joya serves.
“Pre-literacy is crucial for future literacy and school success,” she said. “We try to include books and literacy learning with our therapy for our kids.”
Peterson also aims for the bookstore to be a safe place for unhoused populations to obtain books.
“If you don’t have any money, you can come in and read one of my books,” she said. “And it can make a bigger difference than it could ever cost me. I think that’s the big thing – we don’t worry about how much we give away. If someone needs a discount, I can give them a discount.”
Peterson and the McCanns obtain many of Page 42’s used books from community donations and estate sales.
“It’s really important to have a place to bring books where they’re not going to be thrown away and they’re going to be treated with respect,” Peterson said. “I think a lot of people bring us books from their families’ estates specifically for that reason, because I have reverence for this act.”
Page 42 has a trade-in program allowing people to exchange books for store credit.
“So, even people with extremely limited incomes are still able to come in and turn in their old books, get a little bit of credit and new reads,” Peterson said. “It’s important to us. All of it ties back to our mission statement, which is community impact, one book at a time.”
The bookstore regularly refreshes its inventory with books remaining on the shelf no longer than six months.
“Every time you come in, there will be something fresh to see,” Peterson said. “It will not be the same wall of books because stuff is just always moving.”
Books removed from shelves go into the store’s 25-cent sales section or donated to nonprofits and other organizations, Peterson said.
Peterson, who works upward of 55 hours a week at Page 42, said the most rewarding part of operating the bookstore is connecting with the community.
“I wake up and I can’t wait to get here because the challenges of the day and the impacts we have are so much fun for me,” she said. “Amazon can’t give you the feeling of opening an antique book and saying, ‘How many hands have held this before me and how many people have learned from its pages?’ It’s magic.”
This article has been updated to list the correct address for Page 42 Bookstore.