From mechanics to business ownership: The versatility of engineering
In the age of the e-book and one-day delivery, the independent bookstore industry faces multiple challenges. Rising overhead costs, razor-thin profit margins and fierce competition from larger sellers who can undercut prices make owning a brick-and-mortar bookstore a formidable undertaking—but Evan Schertz ʼ19 is ready to take on that challenge.
Since graduating from Mines with a degree in mechanical engineering last May, Schertz has been learning the ropes at Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colo. He’s preparing to take over ownership from his parents, Andrea Avantaggio and Peter Schertz, by learning the ins and outs of the business, making connections in both local and national communities and taking the lead in planning for the store’s upcoming remodel.
While owning a bookstore is an unusual career choice after graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering, Schertz said his scientific background and experiences at Mines have prepared him perfectly for this role. “I think what I got out of my education at Mines is more than just the nuances of fluids or statics—it was the mindset I learned regarding how to solve problems, think critically and work hard,” Schertz said. “And I’m realizing now just how well that all translates into business ownership.”
He’s in the process of restructuring the organization to be able to withstand the loss of its two most knowledgeable employees as his parents transition out. Schertz said he’s tackling the challenge by using the creative thinking methods he learned at Mines. “I’m approaching it as a really complicated problem I know I can solve,” Schertz said. “It just takes looking at all the right pieces and putting it all together in the right way. It feels more manageable the more rationally I can think about it.”
And that’s on top of trying to remain competitive against the convenience of online sellers like Amazon. “For a brick-and-mortar bookstore to survive in this era, it really takes a community that values it enough to support it over the obvious alternatives.” And Maria’s has that support, Schertz said. “The Durango community is pretty incredible. People have always cared about Maria’s a lot, and I think my being there has brought new energy to a classic store.”
For Schertz, both the connection to the community and the opportunity to apply his degree in creative ways were part of the reason he chose such an unconventional career path for an engineer. But mostly, he said, it’s just what he wanted to do. “Once I got over the hurdle of actually considering [bookstore ownership] as a real possibility, it felt like a no-brainer,” he explained. “It’s an incredible opportunity and exactly what I could see myself doing for a long time.”