After 55 years in Scottsdale, Guidon Books will shut its doors at its third — and possibly final — location in the Scottsdale Airpark at the end of this month.
It was a decision that brought co-owner Shelly Dudley to tears.
“It was their legacy, their love,” she said of her parents, Ruth and Aaron Cohen who originally owned the shop.
“I hate giving it up, but I’m getting old enough to know that I don’t want to do this for six days a week. I have a whole other life with Gordon that we want to do some traveling, do more family research. So, it’s hard.”
For decades, Guidon Books was more than a store with a virtually endless supply of Civil War and Western Americana books.
It was a hub where lifelong relationships were formed, where books by first-time Scottsdale resident authors were published and sold, and where Shelly’s passion for Arizona history was born.
“It’s the end of 55 years when my parents started the store in Old Town Scottsdale on Main Street,” Dudley said. “My mother loved the Civil War. My father was very interested in Custer and Western history. I developed that love. I was a research historian at Salt River Project for 28 years.”
Shelly and Gordon, both Scottsdale residents, inherited the shop from Shelly’s parents around the time her father turned 91.
They were such avid learners of American history, the Cohens would take their children, including Shelly, on family trips to historical sites around the country.
“As a young child and a teenager, we would go up to the Custer battlefield or we would go to Civil War battlefields. And then once Gordon and I were married, we took our children to visit Civil War battlefields and to historic sites. So history’s in the blood,” Shelly said.
Guidon Books originally opened on Main Street in 1964 in a 700-square-foot space, until it eventually out-grew the store and moved to Second Street and Marshall Way in 2011.
Then, in 2016, the bookstore moved to northern Scottsdale, where Shelly and Gordon continued to sell books both in the brick-and-mortar store and online — with more of a focus on online sales.
Guidon Books has an extensive collection of new and out-of-print books on the American Civil War and Western Americana, as well as large Lincoln and Custer Collections and another section devoted to American Indian history, arts and crafts.
The store itself has a total of about 30,000 books for sale, with 20,000 books up front and 10,000 books stored in the warehouse.
Currently, all books are on sale half-off through June 15.
Shelly and Gordon will pack the remaining books that do not sell away in a warehouse in the Scottsdale Airpark for about one year in hopes someone expresses interest in taking over the business.
“That’s still an option, but it’s something you have to really want to do,” Gordon said. “We’re going to probably sell some online, have them available and just test the market to see if there’s anybody that wants to pick up the business.”
It was a bittersweet decision for Shelly and Gordon to make, not renewing their lease. But, they knew it was time to pursue other passion projects.
I think what I really cherish the most or really makes me sad is everybody who comes in and says, ‘Oh my God, you’re leaving?’”
Once they’ve packed all the remaining books away in storage and said goodbye to the Airpark location, the couple plans to take a trip to Georgia and Virginia, among other states.
“We’re going to do a lot of traveling. We’re doing quite a bit of genealogical research, which involves traveling back to Georgia and Virginia and a few states in-between, to try to fill in some gaps in the documented history of my family, the Dudley family,” Gordon said.
Shelly will conduct research on the 1872-73 Tonto Basin Campaign and specifically research into cavalry lieutenant Walter Scribner Schuyler, who served under General George Crook.
“I thought once I retired from SRP that managing the bookstore would be really easy and I’d have all this free time to do this research,” she said.
That was the hope, at least, by moving Guidon Books to the Airpark area: less foot traffic, meaning spending less time manning the store. But that wasn’t the case.
“We still get a lot of destination traffic — people that have been customers for a number of years here,” Gordon said.
One such longtime customer located overseas is New Zealand-based Les Freeman, a self-described history buff.
Freeman first found Guidon Books in the mid-’90s while searching for special editions of American novelist Louis L’Amour books, which were not available new outside of the United States.
He quickly built a longstanding relationship with Shelly’s father, as he had “120-odd books to try and buy.”
“He introduced me to mailbag postage, which allowed me to buy more books at one time because the postage was that much cheaper. I still have a couple of the canvas U.S. mail bags that I still use in my gardening,” Freeman said.
After years of purchasing online, Freeman finally visited the store in 2008 when it was still located on Main Street.
He was astounded by the quantity and quality of books Guidon Books had and would later return to Scottsdale for his second visit.
“It was the personal service from Aaron and Shelly that kept me coming back, and I knew that they would look after me, including searching and keeping an eye out for books they did not have in stock,” Freeman said. “Shelly supplied and completed a series of 10 out-of-print books for me.”
Freeman said he will miss Guidon Books, which, to him, was more than just a shopping trip.
“[It was] a complete experience being able to browse such a wide range of books and topics over a matter of hours,” he said. “On my last visit, the other customers were much the same as me in that they were buying more than they expected and were relaxing in the atmosphere of the shop.”
Freeman is still in contact with the Dudleys to this day.
Shelly and Gordon take pride in their collection of books.
They not only travel throughout the country each year, searching for books of special interest to their friends and customers, but they also look forward to helping serious collectors — like Freeman — find the last book that will complete his or her collection.
It’s a dedication to history and customer service that Shelly and Gordon inherited from Aaron and Ruth.
“Their passion for history was contagious. They knew all the important books on the subject and which ones to avoid,” said Marshall Trimble, Arizona’s official state historian since 1997.
“It was like walking into a museum in a small town,” he continued. “There was a warmth about it that made one want to sit in one of those comfortable chairs and start reading.”
Trimble visited Guidon Books for the first time in 1968; one of his professors at Arizona State University, Otis Young, suggested he drop by the bookstore and introduce himself to the Cohens.
Trimble calls this visit a life-changing experience, as it’s when he acquired his first mentors as he headed down the path of becoming a Western historian, specializing in Arizona history.
“I devoured book after book, and when I finished one, I would visit the store and discuss it with them. Often times, there was a well-known author in the store and I had a chance to talk history with a real author,” he recalled. “I had grown up in a home where there (were) no books, so whole new worlds opened up to me.”
Years later, the Cohens encouraged Trimble to write a history book about Arizona. He did, but The University of Arizona Press rejected it.
Ruth, on the other hand, picked up the rejected manuscript, and said, “Let me have this. There’s a man from Doubleday in the store and I want to see if they’re interested.”
A few weeks later, Doubleday & Company sent Trimble a contract, and the book “Arizona: A Panoramic History of a Frontier State” was published in 1977.
Since then, Trimble has taught Arizona history at Scottsdale Community College for 40 years before retiring in 2014.
“Naturally, I felt a deep loss, not just for myself, but for the citizens and city of Scottsdale,” Trimble said of Guidon Books’ closing. “Guidon Books was an icon for the community for so many years and was known and respected nationally and internationally by authors, scholars and aficionados of Arizona, Western and Civil War history.”
Shelly said her mother, who passed away in 1999, knew everyone and “they just really loved her.”
“I still have books that my mother handled because I can tell by her writing,” Shelly said. “It was so much their passion and their love.”
As for her father, in 2010, he was named an Arizona Culturekeeper, an award sponsored by the Westin Kierland Resort and the Arizona Historical Society honoring 100 Arizonans for keeping alive the rich history and culture during the state’s 100th birthday.
Those interested in acquiring Guidon Books and continuing the legacy can contact Shelly and Gordon via email at email@example.com.
“I can’t drive down Main Street without glancing at the site where the quaint little store stood for so many years. It’s a rich piece of Scottsdale history, and we’re going to miss it.”