Bookstore Spotlight: Bad Rock Books


Debbie Burke


Bad Rock Books
Columbia Falls, MT

Montana fun facts: Montana is the fourth largest state but only has a population of one million.

Cattle outnumber humans.

The entire state has only one area code—406.

The little town of Livingston, Montana (pop. 7500+) claims more writers per capita than any other city in the U.S.

My favorite fun fact: Montana has more bookstores per capita than any other state.

Maybe it’s the long winters. Or the proud tradition of authors like Norman MacLean, A.B. Guthrie, James Lee Burke, Nevada Barr, James Crumley, Ivan Doig, Jim Harrison, etc.

Whatever the reason, Montanans love to read.

One of my favorite bookstores is Bad Rock Books in Columbia Falls, a small town on the way to Glacier National Park.

The name “Bad Rock” derives from nearby Bad Rock Canyon, a narrow mountain pass that’s bordered on one side by the Flathead River and sheer rock cliffs on the other. In ancient times, the Blackfeet, who lived on the plains east of the Swan Range, and Flathead tribe, on the west side, engaged in frequent territorial conflicts. The Flathead crossed the mountains to hunt buffalo on the plains and the Blackfeet traveled to the west side to steal the excellent horses raised there.

According to legend and lore, one tribe strategically positioned itself atop the sheer cliff and rolled boulders down on their opponents trapped in the narrow canyon, winning that battle.

The name is still appropriate. With every spring thaw, rock slides crash down on the two-lane highway or on the train tracks on the opposite side of the river.

Back to Bad Rock Books, which is not only a charming shop but also has a great backstory.

From 1997-2016, Carol Rocks ran Bad Rock Books as a one-woman show. Every morning, she ate breakfast at the Whistle Stop Café across Nucleus Avenue from the shop and struck up a friendship with Cindy Ritter, her favorite server. When health problems hit Carol, with true small-town community spirit, Cindy began helping out at the bookstore. As Carol’s health worsened, soon Cindy was running the business full-time.

When Carol passed, Cindy was stunned to learn Carol had left the store to her.

The neighbor-helping-neighbor spirit doesn’t end there. One cat, Bailey, came with the shop. When Cindy took Bailey to Dr. Lawson, the veterinarian down the street, he told her about a sweet cat that had been abandoned and asked if Cindy would adopt her. To close the deal, he threw in free vet care. The new cat was dubbed: “Miss Poe”.

Manager Bailey pauses for a nap while inspecting a new bag of books

Miss Poe now co-manages the bookstore with Bailey.

A recent addition is Sweet Pete, another rescue from Dr. Lawson’s clinic. Bailey makes sure that Sweet Pete knows he has to work his way up to a management position.




Locals and tourists alike browse the shelves for new and used books from every possible genre. One corner is filled with boxes of children’s books on the floor. Cindy explains she initially thought those books should be shelved. Then she discovered, “Kids prefer to sit on the floor and dig through boxes like a treasure hunt.”

Cindy says one of her favorite perks is to see readers discover a special book. “Whether it’s fiction, local history, or plant identification, I like to watch how people light up and expand when they find a book that opens doors to a new interest for them.”

The inventory of 20,000 books is attractively displayed and well-organized. Cindy is also an enthusiastic booster of local authors. She prominently features their books and graciously hosts gatherings and signings.

MT authors Marie Martin, Karen Wills, Dr. Betty Kuffel, Debbie Burke


Cindy says: “It’s a blessing to be a part of this place. The community benefits the bookstore and the bookstore benefits the community.”

Her great attitude is the reason Bad Rock Books is one of my favorite bookstores.



TKZers: What are the best qualities of your favorite local bookstore?




Bad Rock Books carries the paperback edition of Debbie Burke’s new thriller, Stalking MidasAlso available on Kindle here.

22 thoughts on “Bookstore Spotlight: Bad Rock Books

  1. A shout out for Great Expectations Bookstore, which had a splendid 52-year run “under the El tracks” on Foster Street in Evanston. It closed in 2001 (

    Great Expectations specialized in philosophy books. Under Truman Metzel, who owned the store while I was a grad student at Northwestern, it was danger to the pocket book. I still have unread books I bought because they were something I should read or they looked interesting. Were I a grad student today, given today’s book prices, there is no way I could have bought all of them.

    Once a month the philosophy community gathered in the aisles to hear a philosophy paper. The cooler in the back was loaded with Bud and you left a quarter (!) in the pot. (Those were the days when we didn’t know anything about beer quality.)

    I remember one night a prof read a paper called “Resistentialism,” a send-up of Existentialism. It’s thesis was “things resist us.” As I recall, Bill Earle did not think it at all funny.

  2. I guess I’d better hitch the wagon and get on over to Montana one of these days. I’ve got a wonderful nephew who lives in Lewistown, and I’d love to see the area.

    Inklings Bookshop in Yakima, WA-my hometown and where I still live-is one of my fave hangouts.

    It’s a tiny place, but packed with charm, tucked in a small shopping center on the corner of Summitview Ave and 56th Ave between a high-end shoe store and a coffee place.

    Inklings sells books and journals, and a variety of soaps, candles, bags, and candies. So not only is it charming, but it smells good!

    Inklings also supports local authors. I’ve had two signings there, and have attended others. The staff go out of their way to make sure authors are welcomed and pampered.

    And don’t you love the name?

    • Hi Deb, sounds like I need to take a road trip to visit Inklings. Smart of them to expand into gift products–that helps a bookstore’s bottom line plus creates a pleasant environment.

      • Let me know when you plan your trip…

        There’s another bookstore in Walla Walla, WA (and don’t you love THAT name!) where my dad used to live. It’s called Just Right Books, and is owned and operated by a lady by the last name of Wright. She sells used books. When my dad still lived there and we visited, I never passed up a chance to go there.

        She seems to have no rhyme nor reason to how she shelves the books. The bookstore is small, but the shelves overflow to the stacks on the floor. Every available space is used.

        Her customers know to just go and ask her for what they’re looking for instead of trying to find it themselves. She knows where everything is. A real treat of a place and she’s a treat, too.

        • Deb, I certainly will and if you get in my neck of the woods, let me know, also.

          Ms. Wright must have a photographic memory. People with that skill amaze me. I need a place for everything and everything in its place. Even then, I still can’t find stuff.

  3. Pingback: Spotlight on Bad Rock Books – Debbie Burke

  4. Living in the Columbus, OH area, there are a variety of bookstores. My personal favorite is a chain called “Half-Price Books”. I especially love their clearance section where my wife and I have found many wonderful books (fiction and non-fiction, audiobooks, DVDs, and CDs) at ridiculously low prices ($3 to $5 per book). The regular shelves have also turned up great bargains. The Columbus Public Libraries sponsor book fairs from time to time which also yield nuggets of “reading gold”.

  5. The Book Loft here on Amelia Island is a favorite of locals and tourists. Though he changed the name, we’re the setting for John Grisham’s novel, Camino Island. (He has a home here.)
    It’s wonderful to see local bookstores still surviving.

  6. Fascinating article! I assumed you were joking about Montanans reading so much due to their long winters, but then I recalled what big-league readers Icelanders are. Their Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood,” is a cherished tradition. Guess long, cold winters could be part of the reason.

  7. My favorite is Powell’s in downtown Portland, OR. It is huge with new and used shelved together. It’s big enough to get lost in and you can find books of all kinds. It is a true treasure. My favorite part is sitting in the coffee shop and looking over my purchases.
    It’s been a while since I’ve been there. I think I’ll go again soon.

  8. Just read an article on the NPR website about indie bookstores. From 2009 till today, they’ve seen almost now a 40 percent increase in their numbers. Whoo-hoo!

    Funny you should mention Jim Harrison. He’s a god up here in northern Michigan. (He split his time between Michigan and Montana). And indie bookstores are flourishing in this state as well. There’s a tiny used book store in Leland Michigan whose owner specializes in Harrison. I was just there this past weekend, taking a visitor who’s a Harrison fan-boy. They had an autographed copy of Legends of the Fall for $1700. It also had a drawing by Harrison inside. Almost had to drag my poor friend away before he whipped out his Master Card.

    • Great to see indies rise from the ashes, Kris.

      What a collectible that book would be. BTW, Jim’s daughter, Jamie Harrison, is also a novelist who lives in Livingston.

  9. I am so glad to hear that the indie books stores are thriving. In our area we mainly have a Barnes and Nobel, which is still fun to poke around in, and what author doesn’t like books and coffee?

    I love your facts about Montana. Idaho is similarly unpopulated with the same population, but less size, but half the population lives in the Boise Metro area, leaving the rest of the state predominately wilderness in the center with civilization on the fringes. Our home lies two hours away from the highly populated area and is in the southern part where the temperatures are mild. We have four full seasons but no harsh winters. 🙂

    However, that is so cool about Montana and the average of books stores per capita. Love that! Thank you for sharing such interesting trivia. And I agree with Brian, Powell’s in Portland is amazing, so big you literally need a map to negotiate it as it covers and entire city block and three stories.

Comments are closed.