by Amy Pearson

According to a Publishers Weekly article in 2013, Montana has more bookstores per capita than any other state. It has also been noted that Montana has more breweries per capita than any other state.

“There is a brewery trail around the state so we thought, why not do something for bookstore people who might also enjoy a structured adventure?” says Julie Schultz from This House of Books in Billings.

The Montana Bookstore Trail has been a collaborative effort between the owners of twenty-one independent bookstores across the state ranging from Page Turners in Fairview to Chapter One in Hamilton and everywhere in between.

The idea is simple, but the goal is impressive. Obtain an official bookstore passport from any of the twenty-one stores and visit as many of them as you can. Get your passport stamped at each location, and when you have completed the trail to the best of your ability by the end of the summer, scan the QR code on the back of your passport to complete a quiz that will enter you in a grand prize drawing.

I asked Schultz and Millie Whalen from Cassiopeia Books in Great Falls about the objectives of the trail project.

“It promotes independent bookstores,” Whalen says. “And it has served as a point of connection between people with different perspectives who love books.”

The Trail has also served as a point of connection between the people who run Montana’s bookstores.

“We sometimes become immersed in our own communities, but it’s amazing to be part of the larger literary community of Montana,” Schultz adds.

Each bookstore reflects the community in which it is located. At Cassiopeia for instance, you will find a forty-year-old cactus as opposed to a cat. The Bookstore in Dillon was built in the 1800s and sold moonshine out the backdoor at one time.

Rachael Elliott-Brug at Reading Leaves in Townsend is lauded as the linchpin who helped to actualize the Bookstore Trail concept this year by garnering sponsorships from Visit Southwest Montana, Arcadia Publishing, and Farcountry Press. She also designed the map in coordination with Mara Panich of Fact & Fiction in Missoula and Marc Beaudin at Elk River Books in Livingston.

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