A Logan bookstore was about to close. Then a customer’s quip changed everything.

“As long as you don’t need to earn money,” longtime Bookshelf owner said with a laugh, “it is a wonderful avocation.”

(Eli Lucero | Special to The Tribune) Jeff Ballard, left, and Becky Jorgensen pose for a portrait at Grandpa's Bookshelf, Tuesday Jan. 12, 2022, in Logan. Jorgensen owned Becky's Bookstore for over 20 years. With declining health and economic challenges Jorgensen retired and Ballard, a longtime customer, now runs the store.

Night after night, Becky Jorgensen would finish her work exhausted and in pain.

Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue had sapped strength from shoulders already bearing the load of running a small business, and Jorgensen could no longer keep pace with the work. For more than 20 years, she had been the owner, manager and often the only worker at her Logan store — Becky’s Bookshelf — and despite her health struggles, she found it a difficult chapter in her life to close.

”I love people, and I love books, and I couldn’t think of anything better in the world to do, at that time in my life, than to run the bookstore,” she said.

Jorgensen’s voice carries the pleasant tones of someone well-versed in customer service. Now 66 years old, she exudes the same warm demeanor — and wears the same smile to greet customers — that she had for the past two decades.

For years, she had felt retirement creeping closer but had resisted the inevitable. “You keep thinking, ‘One more year, one more year.’ So that I can enjoy it, and the customers can enjoy it,” she said.

But this is a mantra she has repeated for the final time. A monthslong COVID-19 shutdown, declining personal health and increasing rent finally compelled Jorgensen to announce her retirement in September.

But in an unexpected plot twist, the store isn’t bowing out with her.

‘A wonderful avocation’

Chimes in the entryway jingled as the door opened to admit a customer. In the weeks following Jorgensen’s decision to retire, the cheerful sound was a sharp contrast to what often came next. Tears and emotion-filled pleas flowed from customers and longtime friends begging her to keep working, to keep running the Bookshelf.

From the outside, the Bookshelf had long been an unassuming place, one of the many independent stores that populate downtown Logan. In the fall, a bright display of books peeked out from the front window, each chosen for its fall-appropriate red, yellow or orange exterior.

For customers, the shop had been one of the only places in the valley to find used books at reasonable prices. For Jorgensen, the Bookshelf had been an outlet, somewhere between a hobby and a job. It had never been about the money, which was fortunate; the store didn’t make much.

(Eli Lucero | Special to The Tribune) Becky Jorgensen arranges books at the former Becky's Bookshelf, Tuesday Jan. 12, 2022, in Logan.

“As long as you don’t need to earn money, it is a wonderful avocation,” Jorgensen said with a laugh.

In an effort to keep the store afloat financially, Alyssa Stephenson, an English student at Utah State University, started a GoFundMe campaign in September with the title “Save Becky’s Bookshelf.” The ongoing crowdfunding endeavor garnered more than $2,000 in donations — a testament to the community’s love for the small business.

”She’s just amazing — and I love the environment there,” Stephenson said. “I just went, ‘You know, even if this goes nowhere, I just want to try. I just want to try to help this place out.’”

Independent bookstores are often run by people who first loved books and then turned their passion into a career. Jorgensen said she grew up in a family where the kids would hide under their blankets at bedtime with flashlights and books so they could keep reading.

As the owner of the Bookshelf, she spent a lot of time browsing children’s stories, so she could personally tell parents what’s good, what’s not, and what’s inappropriate.

”The joy for me is finding a book that no one else has ever heard of and to have read it and just been wildly excited about it, just enthusiastic, and wanting to share that with someone,” she said.

It’s that passion that so endeared Jorgensen to her customers — and them to her.

”She loves them,” said Sue Campbell Pinkerton, a longtime friend of Jorgensen’s and a supporter of the shop. “I mean, if someone hasn’t come in for a while, she’ll think, ‘I may need to call her. I need to make sure she’s OK. I may need to make sure that she’s still around.’ With all these people that we are losing [during the pandemic,] she’s really concerned about her customers.”

(Eli Lucero | Special to The Tribune) Cristian Chavez looks at a book at Grandpa's Bookshelf, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, in Logan.

In her final weeks working at the store, Jorgensen’s passion for the work was still evident. When speaking about her eponymous shop, she was equal parts animated and wistful, laughing at some treasured memory, then growing quiet and thoughtful, as if revealing some painful secret that even she can’t believe is true.

“Everything about the bookstore is part of me,” she said. “It’s difficult. Some days I don’t even want to come in because I know I’ll see other things that will make me sad.”

‘In a flash’

One of Jorgensen’s loyal customers was Jeff Ballard, a longtime elementary school teacher who recently retired, only to un-retire a year later after boredom started driving him — and his wife — a bit crazy.”

“I bounced around the house for a year, and my wife got really tired of me,” he explained. “So I got a part-time job at River Heights Elementary teaching music, and it’s just a hobby. I don’t get paid that much, but I sure have fun.”

He is passionate about books — as many of the store’s customers are — but as a teacher, he has a special love for children’s books. He proudly talked about the collection of Newbery Award winners he keeps at home and could fill the air with details about his favorite stories and characters. Reading tangible books, he said, is a joy he wants everyone to experience.

”Too many people are not picking up books anymore,” he said. “They’ve got their phone — they read off their phone — they’ve got iPads and things like that. But just the feel of a real book and being able to stop anytime you want, put in a bookmark, come back to it anytime you want, it’s something that I would love to have everyone, especially young people, share.”

One October day, he stopped into the Bookshelf to make some final purchases. He is a fan of myriad genres and authors — the acclaimed novelist Isaac Asimov is a favorite — and found himself browsing in the sci-fi and fantasy section of the Bookshelf.

The genres occupy a compact room in the store, between the mystery section and the shelves full of historical fiction, which is close enough to where Jorgensen was working so that Ballard could overhear her talking about the Bookshelf’s impending closure.

He peeked his head around the corner. ”If it wasn’t for the money, I would jump on this place in a flash,” he told her.

(Eli Lucero | Special to The Tribune) Jeff Ballard holds up a book while asking Becky Jorgensen a question at Grandpa's Bookshelf, Tuesday. Jan. 11, 2022, in Logan.

‘A losing proposition’

Ballard thought his comment was just an idle piece of conversation, but Jorgensen saw it differently.

”We are one of the very few bookstores here in town, and books are so important, and reading is so important. And I could not take that away from my customers,” she said. “I just couldn’t do that. I love books and my customers too much to just have it disappear.”

Up to that point, she had been trying to sell the shelves and books, but a new idea had begun taking shape in her mind, one that would gratify her customers and keep the Bookshelf alive.

”I knew that once we had talked about how he would like to have a bookstore, but buying basically a losing proposition, you know, most people don’t want to put up the money up front for something that can’t support them each month,” Jorgensen said.

“But by that point, I’d said to my husband, ‘I’d rather give the store away than to have to close it down.’”

Jorgensen and Ballard subsequently exchanged a series of messages over Facebook — first to confirm that Ballard was serious about taking over the store and then to work out logistics — and it was all but a done deal. The upfront price? One dollar.

(Eli Lucero | Special to The Tribune) Jeff Ballard, left, and Becky Jorgensen clean books before they are sold at Grandpa's Bookshelf, Tuesday Jan. 11, 2022, in Logan.

The pair also agreed that Ballard would give a small amount of the store’s profits to Jorgensen each month for the foreseeable future.

In the moment, Ballard was so excited that he forgot to inform the person who had insisted he go back to work in the first place. ”I had already told Becky yes before I told my wife,” he said.

Ballard gets to fulfill a lifelong dream at virtually no personal cost, and Jorgensen found a way to script a fitting epilogue to her time at the store: securing a successor.

”I think he’s already got that motivation and love that I think you need for the books,” she said. “I hope he will learn about the people.”

‘I’ll be happy’

Jorgensen breezed into the store at around noon on a Friday in early November. The newly christened shop — Grandpa’s Bookshelf — had opened two hours earlier under Ballard’s supervision. Not having to open the store is one of the perks of no longer being the owner.

The two shared an easy, if sporadic, dialogue as they worked side by side. Jorgensen had promised to stick around and train her successor to run the shop, and he is learning faster than she had anticipated.

Ballard said he was taken aback by Jorgensen’s offer to hand over the store; his ability to accept was due to him being in the right place at the right time.

”She talked about how the rent was going up and how it was just not possible to make a living off of this store,” he said. “And I thought, ‘Well, I don’t need to make a living. As long as it breaks even and I’m having fun, I’ll be happy with it.”

Ballard, at 62 years old, is not much younger than Jorgensen, but he hopes to run the store for another 20 years before passing it on to somebody else and repeating the cycle. The Bookshelf is here to stay.

For her part, Jorgensen plans on becoming a frequent customer and says that whenever Ballard needs a day off, she hopes that he will give her a call. ”You just can’t get away from it,” she said.

(Eli Lucero | Special to The Tribune) Jeff Ballard, left, and Becky Jorgensen pose for a portrait at Grandpa's Bookshelf, Tuesday Jan. 12, 2022, in Logan. Jorgensen owned Becky's Bookstore for over 20 years. With declining health and economic challenges Jorgensen retired and Ballard, a longtime customer now runs the store.