Paragraphs bookstore set to close

Norm Rourke exits Paragraphs after visiting with co-owners and operators Joni Montover and Griff Mangan. Rourke says he's an avid book reader and has been visiting the store since it opened in 2009. Alana Hernandez/Valley Morning Star

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — For the past decade, this full-service independent bookstore has been a hub for visitors in search for a variety of new and used books.

From local history and fiction to humor and science, the owners of Paragraphs bookstore pride themselves on being able to find books that will satisfy any reader at a price they can afford.

Coinciding with the time of year, the store is often frequented by Winter Texans looking for a cozy space to read or summer vacationers with the hope of finding a good book to read while lounging at the beach.

However, the business will soon reach its final chapter.

Co-owners and operators Joni Montover and Griff Mangan, 66, plan to retire and close Paragraphs Saturday, Feb. 29.

“Business has been wonderful. We’re still busy every day and we enjoy it,” Griff said. “It’s just that we’re getting older and it’s time that we get to enjoy what we have to offer here and things like that so we’re happy.”

Joni said it is a bittersweet decision they contemplated for a while.

She describes running Paragraphs as being both rewarding and absorbing.

“It has given us a great deal of satisfaction and I am very proud of the contribution we have made to the community,” Joni stated in a post she shared on Paragraphs’ Facebook page. “But after much thought, we have decided it is time to retire and go fishing, travel together, enjoy the beach and just figure out what comes next.”

More than a bookstore 

Griff said since opening in 2009, they have had an annual customer base.

“We’re known world-wide and have made some very good friends that enjoy themselves when they’re here,” he said. “That was how Joni designed the store, so people can come in and be comfortable.”

The store has lounge chairs, free WiFi, a courtyard, a selection of coffee and tea and game boards available for visitors.

“Visitors come in to chat and tell me stories,” Griff said. “They’ll tell me all sorts of things going on in their lives and sometimes I feel like a bartender so it’s a lot of fun.”

In addition to selling books, Paragraphs helps sell tickets for local events and hosts book clubs, writer’s workshops, meet the author events, book signings and poetry readings.

“Being part of the community was important to us and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that without hurting myself by patting myself on the back, but we’ve always been supportive,” Griff said.  “We feel sort of responsible being a community member.”

Customers’ reaction

Joni announced the closing on Facebook December 31.

Since then, the post has received an outpour of love and support from at least 100 people.

“I am overwhelmed by your comments and gratified that we achieved my goal of being ‘more than a bookstore,’” Joni wrote on Facebook. “You will never know how much your kind words mean to me.”

Brownsville resident Norm Rourke, 83, and his wife Connie, have been visiting Paragraphs since the store opened in February of 2009.

Norm describes himself as a book fanatic.

Paragraphs bookstore co-owner and operator Griff Mangan selling books to Mel Sanborn, a customer from Faribault, Minnesota, that has been visiting the store for the past five years. Alana Hernandez/Valley Morning Star

“I just love independent stores. They’re great,” Norm said. “Unfortunately, there’s not many of them around, but there’s warmth and a feeling like you’re home where you can sit down and grab a book to read.”

He said before moving to the Valley, he and his wife Connie considered themselves as typical Winter Texans trying to get away from Oklahoma’s weather.

“When we saw that they were building the bookstore, we got really excited,” Norm said. “We spend a lot of time on the Island and every time we’re here we pop in for a bit.”

Norm said he made sure to visit the shop Wednesday after finding out Paragraphs is going to close.

“I was reading when my wife found out Paragraphs was closing,” Norm said. “I literally dropped my book.”

Norm said as a bookstore lover, the news was kind of like a personal hit, more or less.

“That’s how much I care for them and the store,” he said. “It’ll be something I miss, so I’ll just have to stop by every once in a while just to let them know we’re still here.”

Unique in the area

Scattered throughout the Valley, readers can find a handful of places to purchase books.

However, mom-and-pop bookstores appear to be a rare find in the Lower Valley.

“You can find books, but as far as a bookstore, they tell us that we’re the only one,” Griff said. “So it’s a rare find in that way.”

Griff said one of the advantages independent bookstores is that they don’t have to turn over their books.

“We can keep a book on a shelf for a year or so without getting yelled at by management where they can’t afford to just kind of have books on their shelves,” he said.

Griff said he likes to have books that he enjoyed reading when he was a kid, such as Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Yves de Diesbach, an Island resident from Paris, France, flips through a couple of pages in a book located in the Texas History/Western section at Paragraphs bookstore on the Island. Alana Hernandez/Valley Morning Star

“It’ll sell every once in a while, but it’ll be a harder book to find in Barnes and Noble because they want to turn it fairly quickly,” he said. “So that’s why a lot of people like our books.”

Griff said he plans to create a list of where people can find books on the Island before Paragraphs closes.

“It’s kind of a fun thing, like a scavenger hunt,” he said. “We’re not the only spot to get a book, but we’re the only spot that’s a bookstore. That’s how I put it.”

Looking ahead

Resembling a castle, Paragraphs was built to have the bookstore and a patio that connects the business with Joni and Griff’s house.

“The books are all paid for so they’re going to just stay here and they’ll be part of my library so it does give us a little bit of an option,” Griff said. “Maybe come fall or something like that if we want to open a little bit at a time or something we would have some stock.”

Griff said the couple doesn’t plan on selling the building and can always consider redoing it if they need to.

“Right now, the best thing is to stop, enjoy ourselves and get organized,” Griff said. “Then, four or five months down the road, if we want to do it again or differently, but we’ll go ahead and see.”