[caption id="attachment_10886" align="alignleft" width="259" caption="Elaine Petrocelli"][/caption]

Elaine Petrocelli


Book Passage

51 Tamal Vista Blvd.

Corte Madera 94925


www. bookpassage.com

CORTE MADERA - Elaine Petrocelli shines like a beam of light in the shadow of the big retail stores. Her Book Passage, the literary center of Marin County since 1976, is proof that independent book stores need not be snuffed out.

Retail giant Barnes & Noble moved only steps away three years ago, yet Book Passage continues to be the Northern California stop of choice for the nation's best writers, and an oasis for readers and writers all over the Bay Area.

"I wanted to open a store where everyone would feel welcome, especially authors who often come in feeling nervous about discussing their books," said Ms. Petrocelli.

"Everyone on our staff loves to read and knows how to make customers and authors feel comfortable."

Despite having hosted some very big names - Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Lauren Bacall and Queen Noor of Jordan have been visitors - she remains loyal to the Bay Area's authors and journalists, many of whom give workshops and writing courses at the store.

Budding writers of novels, cookbooks, children's books and non-fiction can not only get writing tips but also learn about finding an agent and managing sales and marketing.

Followers of popular local columnists such as Jon Caroll, John Flynn and Steve Rubinstein of the Chronicle can meet them and learn their secrets at Book Passage workshops.

"There's a hidden writer in all of us waiting to be discovered," she said. "It's a wonderful source of pride to me and our staff when a budding author we've mentored publishes a book."

At a 30th store anniversary, more than 30 authors spoke about the influence Book Passage had on their careers.

"That was fulfilling," said Ms. Petrocelli.

But her greatest source of pleasure is reading and talking to customers about books.

"I read an average of five books a week. It's impossible to be stressed when you're involved in a book. And like all my staff, talking books to people who come in is what we love to do," she said.

Ms. Petrocelli is also commited to the community. Events and donations at Book Passage benefit the Marin Literacy Program, Hospice by the Bay, Giving Tree and Marin Education Fund.

She also maintains a joint charity venture with Bank of Marin, where her favorite picks are displayed.

Ms. Petrocelli lives in Strawberry with her husband, Bill, who is also her business partner and who writes the popular Passage News & Reviews, with reviews, class schedules and his wife's best picks. Their adult children also work at the store.

"I love Marin. People joke about it as a hotbed of experimentation. Actually that's true but not in the way our critics portray us. We are open to new ideas, and that's part of what makes Marin such a perfect place for creative people to live and work," she said.

Ms. Petrocelli said her hobby is her circle of friends, which she values second to her own family. Some of her greatest friends are the authors, publishers and customers she's met at Book Passage as well as members of a book club that has been meeting for more than 40 years.

Her own grandmother was a major influence.

"She lived with us when I was a teenager. She had always worked, yet she had a life filled with good friends and family. The night before she died, she told me to marry Bill, and that's the best advice I've ever taken."

Like her grandmother did, she reads to her grandchildren.

"Literacy is the fundamental driving force behind personal growth and success as well as a key to inner peace and satisfaction."

Books can be life changing, she said.

"'House of the Spirits' by my friend Isabel Allende changed my way of thinking about storytelling.

"Don't stop reading books," she said.