Sue Lubeck, the founder of Westword's Best of Denver award-winning Bookies Bookstore, passed away on Thursday, July 8.
"The depths of our despair at sharing this cannot be imagined," the shop posted to its Facebook page. "Last night, surrounded by her family, our founder Sue Lubeck reached the end of her long story."
And a rich story it was.
In 1971, when the youngest of her three children, Rob, went to kindergarten, Sue set out to determine what she wanted to do next with her life. Knowing the Denver area needed a children's bookshop, she decided to found that store in her basement. Soon her offerings began to take over the family's entire home.
"She was definitely a trendsetter and independent woman back in the early ‘70s," says Rob. "For a woman to be an entrepreneur without a business background was pretty revolutionary."
Having their house double as a bookstore was a mixed bag for the kids, though. Rob recalls getting off the school bus and walking into his home, where customers were browsing the stacks — not the ideal situation. But when friends visited, there were always plenty of toys to play with and books to read.
Sue ran the shop out of her home for years, until neighbors started complaining to the city about the delivery trucks that would stop in front of her house. After zoning inspectors came in and shut down the operation, she moved the Bookies to Sixth Avenue and Ogden Street. From there, she launched a bookmobile, which would drive around town offering customers books, toys and games. Within a few years, though, the shop outgrew its space.
Sue eventually moved the Bookies to a strip mall at 4315 East Mississippi Avenue, where it's been for decades, inspiring children with a vast selection of books, along with a wild array of educational gizmos, toys and board games. She would pair books and stuffed animals and find "out-of-the-box" ways to market her store, recalls Rob. If a customer came in searching for a hard-to-find book, she would spend hours making calls around the world to find it.
"It was all about the employees and the customers, at equal levels," he says. "She put her heart and soul into the Bookies for fifty years, and created a unique shop experience."
Her children remember her as an incredible role model. While their dad was the enforcer, she was the softer parent — but that didn't mean she didn't push her kids.
"Her philosophy was that you can do anything you put your mind to, and she taught that to myself and my two brothers as well," Rob says. "She was very caring and pushed us in the right ways and pushed the education and the drive, but not in a super hard way."
Many of the current employees have been with the store for decades, a testament to Sue's commitment to treating her workers like family. She is remembered by friends, family and customers as a blessing to Denver, a person who inspired kids to love reading and had deep empathy for everyone in her community.
"She leaves behind a world that was richer for her having been in it," the shop posted. "A world where countless children learned to love reading. A world filled with more laughter and joy than it will have without her in it."
As Westword wrote of her shop earlier this year: "The best bookstores don't just cater to current bookworms — they breed new ones! And no store does this better than the Bookies, a strip-mall spot that focuses on serving children, families and teachers. While we've managed to shop here without buying anything for ourselves, we've spent more than we care to admit on books and educational toys for the kids in our lives. Bookies employees — most of whom have the air of veteran high school poetry teachers — are experts at recommendations, and the outstanding stacked-to-the-ceiling selection is a joy to browse."
The loss comes at a significant time, with the store preparing to ramp up for its fiftieth anniversary celebration and a string of special events, including the sale of some of Sue's personal collection of antiquarian books.
"She’s going to be missed by so many people in this place, from her family to the Bookies people to the larger community of Denver," Rob says. "Everybody has so much admiration of her. She passed away last night, and it couldn’t have been more peaceful."
The Bookies will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary on Saturday, August 15, and the family will hold a public memorial service for Sue Lubeck in September. Watch the Bookies website and Facebook page for more information.