As the Tempe store celebrates “50” and the Phoenix store approaches the decade milestone, Changing Hands owners Gayle Shanks, Bob Sommer, and Cindy Dach continue to emphasize community, inclusiveness, and sustainability in everything they do (photo courtesy of Changing Hands).

Gayle Shanks and her business partners know magic when they see it. Even if that magic is buried under the dust in an old building. Correction:  Especially if that magic is buried under the dust in an old building.

Changing Hands and the First Draft Book Bar, which is located inside the bookstore, are celebrating their 10th year in the old Beefeater’s building at 300 W. Camelback Road. The building itself holds sweet memories for Shanks, who grew up in Phoenix.

“When I was a little girl in a big family, our dad would take us out to eat, one kid at a time. It was a special time to spend time with him, and Beefeater’s was my favorite place to go. It was big, felt really fancy, and the food was great,” she remembers.

“So, when we saw that the building, an iconic landmark on Camelback Road from the 1950s, was being redeveloped, we had to check it out,” said the little girl now all grown up and known, with her partners, for carving a niche where an independent, community focused bookstore in Tempe has thrived since 1971.

“Customers had asked us to open a Phoenix location for many years, but we had our hands full with the growing Tempe store. We kept saying ‘no’ to a second location. Then Beefeater’s redevelopment came along, and we changed our minds,” she said.

The building, now named “The Newton” in honor of Beefeater’s founder Jay Newton, is a mixed-use concept developed by Venue Projects, LLC, and John Douglas Architects. Changing Hands is there, along with other businesses. Changing Hands and First Draft Book Bar offer far more than books and drinks.

“We’re a community event space, complete with classrooms and meeting rooms. We host classes, book signings, trivia nights, author talks and even weddings and baby showers,” said Shanks.

An astute visitor to Changing Hands—that is, if they aren’t focused on looking ahead to the books inside —will notice the letters to the Beefeater’s sign embedded in the walkway in front of the store.

“We love to see little kids skip across that iconic sign and they race into the store, headed for the children’s book section,” said Shanks. Little footprints and initials also adorn the concrete.

The offerings at First Draft Book Bar are tasty, and the comfortable tables and chairs are often occupied by singles, couples and families, all reading, writing, working remotely via laptop or just plain old visiting with one another. The First Draft Book Bar offers coffee, tea, wine and beer, as well as pastries and small bites.

When so many bookstores, even the big chains like Borders and Bookstar, have closed and their customers buy books from Amazon by clicking their smart phones, how is it that Changing Hands is thriving in not one but two locations?

“We really focus on providing a community, inclusive experience, in addition to books,” said Shanks. In fact, the original Changing Hands was a “worker-owned collective,” occupying all of 500 square feet in Tempe. “We bought a lot of our books from swap meets and took a creative approach to the entire project. The original partners — we were friends from volunteering together at an alternative school. So, we knew one another well, and we all were creative types. We had lively conversations with our customers about what they wanted, and for the most part, we found a way to provide it,” she said.

She remembers keeping a running list of ideas and requests on a yellow legal pad by the “ancient” cash register.

Changing Hands owners have always emphasized inclusiveness and sustainability in everything they do, from hiring to event programming.

“We trade used books—that’s where the name ‘Changing Hands’ came from. Books are often shared, passed from reader to reader. They ‘change hands’ and we help that happen,” said Shanks.

The “trade counter,” where books change hands, is open Sunday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. Customers bring in their books for consideration by Changing Hands staff.

Between the two stores, Changing Hands hosts more than 400 events a year. They vary from story time for little ones to book clubs for ‘tweens and teens to author events to poetry readings. Events, such as their March 30 50th anniversary celebration, can be found through their website or their emails.

The original Tempe store opened on April Fool’s Day of 1974, and the Phoenix store opened 10 years ago this May.

“We were greeted by 3,000 customers lined up around the block, eager to see the new Phoenix store. Many of them commented on eating and celebrating special occasions like birthdays and graduations at Beefeater’s over the years.

“It’s been a lot of fun to see the little kids grow into reading parents who bring their kids and their grandkids to story time, or simply settle into a comfy chair with a kid and a book in their lap,” she said.

“Books are simply magical. They take us to new places, and they open our minds,” said Shanks.

The first book she remembers owning is Winnie the Pooh. “As I grew, I loved the Cherry Ames books about an adventurous nurse, and Louisa May Alcott was a favorite author.

“Events like poetry readings and writing classes introduce us to new experiences and help us get to know one another. It’s a lot of fun to see this community embrace Changing Hands. We work hard, but we feel so beloved. Phoenix natives and newcomers come in and get acquainted in the aisles or at events,” she said. “And I get to work in a favorite place from my childhood. It’s a changing world, but so many things don’t change. Books shared with friends —that’s so much fun and we help make that happen.”


  • Trudy Thompson Shumaker

    Trudy Thompson Rice is a registered nurse and public affairs professional. She holds degrees in Journalism and Nursing from the University of Texas, and is licensed in Arizona as an RN. She is an officer in the Arizona Information Officers' Association, is a graduate of the FBI Citizens Academy and is past president of Phoenix International Association of Business Communicators.

    View all posts

Hello, North Central neighbor — thank you for visiting!

Sign up to receive our digital issue in your inbox each month.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.