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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published December 22 2013

Boom boosts book business: Store owner says influx of oil workers means more readers in Williston

WILLISTON, N.D. – Independent bookstore owner Chuck Wilder noticed a change in business four years ago when guys in Halliburton coveralls started coming into his shop.

Books on Broadway started getting new customers, including a more educated set of oilfield workers than previous oil booms had brought to Williston.

“These guys, they all have engineering degrees and they’re readers,” Wilder said.

The oil boom has been good for business in the downtown shop. Holiday sales are up this year, and the store can’t keep its top seller, “The Frackers” by Gregory Zuckerman, in stock.

Books on Broadway expanded its science fiction and fantasy section in response to the new male customers, and more young women in Williston prompted a resurgence in book clubs. Children’s books and toys fill a large section of the store to meet the demand from more young families having babies in Williston.

“This boom is really fun, riding it out,” Wilder said.

Wilder’s wife, Robin, opened the store in 1993 because she couldn’t find a job in Williston and she always wanted to open a bookstore. She died of cancer in 2000, and Wilder has been running the shop since 1999.

Wilder, a former Williams County state’s attorney, also fills in as an alternate municipal judge in Williston.

The 59-year-old’s roots in Williston go way back. His parents grew up in Williston, and his grandmothers were in Williston before the railroad came through in 1887.

“I’m a local,” Wilder said. “We’re kind of a minority.”

Wilder likes the changes the oil boom has brought to his hometown, particularly efforts underway to enhance the downtown area.

A $16 million, multi-story apartment and retail building is expected to be under construction next year on Main Street.

“I think that’s going to be a real game-changer for downtown,” he said.

Williston also is doing a streetscape project downtown to spruce up streets, awnings, street lights and other aesthetics. City leaders are working with consultants to develop a downtown plan to keep the area prominent as Williston sees commercial growth in other areas of town.

“In 2014, there are going to be some exciting things happening downtown,” Wilder said. “I think this boom has really jumpstarted a lot of things.”