Author defies COVID obstacle to open bookstore
By Kristen Meriwether
In the Fall of 2019, Ryan Holiday and his family took their weekly trip into Bastrop from their nearby ranch and found themselves waiting for a table at Maxine’s Cafe and Bakery. To pass the time they begin walking down Main Street and noticed a beautiful empty storefront for sale.
“You know what would be amazing there?” Holiday’s wife, Samantha, asked. “A bookstore.”
Holiday, a successful author whose works include “Ego is the Enemy” and “Obstacle is the Way,” agreed. But the idea of owning it seemed crazy, Holiday said when recounting the story during a March 18 interview.
He said he put the idea on ice and headed out on book tour for his latest release, “Stillness is the Key.” But as he visited bookstores to promote his own work he found himself taking notes and asking store owners for advice.
In a final attempt to try and talk himself out of the idea, Holiday said he called up fellow Austin author Tim Ferriss, figuring Ferriss would have the smartest reason not to do it. The advice, according to Holiday: “How will you know it’s not a good idea until you’ve tried it?”
In January 2020 Holiday and his wife finally closed on the space. The economy was cooking. They were excited to open The Painted Porch in late spring/early summer 2020.
Then the pandemic hit. And like everyone else, their world changed.
“Suddenly this looked like the absolute worst idea, worst decision we’ve ever made in our life,” Holiday said.
“Did we just spend our life savings on something that is literally illegal to have people come into?” he said reflecting on the forced business closures from March 2020.
The answer was in the Stoic-inspired tattoo on his left forearm: “The Obstacle is the Way.”
The storefront at 912 Main Street in Bastrop was previously a Mexican food restaurant. During renovations, the bar was torn down and replaced with shelves to display books. The white tile floor, worn smooth from decades of bartenders pacing back and forth, still remains. The hostess stand is now the checkout counter.
The area in the back that once housed the kitchen is the children’s book section. The fume hood from the stovetop was removed, revealing a beautiful window that perfectly frames the mural on the wall next door. The treehouse for kids to play in is adorned with cedar trees from his own property nearby.
In the front window sits a display of “The Boy Who Would be King,” a self-published children’s book he created for his sons during the pandemic.
The most striking feature is the fireplace made of 2,000 books. Holiday, who is a voracious reader, said some of the books were his, but most were purchased in bulk. While the fireplace no longer works, it creates a magnificent centerpiece for the store.
You won’t find stacks and stacks of books like a larger book retailer. The more catered selection includes Holiday’s works, all the Stoic classics, and expands into Steven Pressfield, James Clear, Jocko Willink, and Jen Sincero, to name a few. Holiday said the premise was to sell books that he knew people would love.
“That’s the idea: not having lots and lots of books that sit on the shelf and don’t sell, but when people buy it, they are not just like, ‘oh, that was good,’ but, ‘that was the best book that I’ve ever read in that genre,’” Holiday said.
Having his own bookstore also gives the author the chance to connect with his readers in a way he’s never done before in his career.
“Everything I do has been digital,” Holiday said. “Obviously books are physical, but everything has been so ephemeral and there’s so much distance between you and the people.”
Now Holiday can see the customers who purchase his work, and decide how to display it in his store.
Given his popularity, Holiday could have chosen to open the bookstore anywhere. But he wasn’t looking to capitalize on his namesake. He wanted to contribute to his community.
“We wanted to open something where we live, in a community that we love and that would be better for having something like this,” Holiday said.
Holiday and his family are very active in the community. A recent YouTube post showed everyone, including the kids, cleaning up trash and illegally dumped tires on their road. At Christmas, their family gave $10,000 to Bluebonnet Electric to help pay people’s electric bills. They also donated $10,000 to help pay for the removal of a Confederate Monument in Bastrop. Both Holiday and his wife volunteer at the COVID vaccine clinic.
“Part of the reason we moved out here is to have the benefits of living in a small town,” Holiday said. “But I think those benefits also come with certain obligations to be involved.”