FARGO - Josie Danz has been a leader in downtown Fargo’s business community - particularly during the coronavirus pandemic - advocating for businessmen, shoppers and downtown residents to give each other a little grace and support.
Danz managed Zandbroz Variety, an independent bookseller, gift and sundries shop at 420 Broadway, for 11 years. She’s also written a column for The Forum for the past two years.
Now, the Concordia College graduate - who pretty much grew up in Zandbroz (her father is co-owner Greg Danz) - is on a path that will take her to San Francisco.
She’s taken a job with Hachette Book Group as the marketing and publicity manager for London-based Laurence King Publishing. For now, she’s working remotely, but eventually, she’ll move to San Francisco to work at Chronicle Books, the U.S. distributor for LKP.
The Forum recently caught up with the 34-year-old to ask her about the importance of leadership, independent booksellers, and why she’s moving on.
Why did you take on a leadership role downtown?
I grew up watching my dad being one of the pioneers of downtown Fargo. When we opened in 1991 there wasn’t anything downtown. He went to every single meeting and he stood up for downtown. He saw the potential and was willing to fight for it.
I really care about the community and really care about the downtown. I think downtown Fargo is a treasure and I want to continue to see good things happen.
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For downtown to continue to thrive and the community to continue to be a welcoming place, it takes people to stand up and show up. I feel grateful because I’ve had a lot of mentors who have given me the opportunity (to get involved).
I guess when I’m passionate about something and I believe in something, I don’t really think twice and I fight for what I believe in.
Should more young people take on leadership roles?
Absolutely. It's always the right time to get involved. It’s always the right time to take on different responsibilities. We’re already seeing that.
A lot of young people are taking risks and opening up their own businesses and putting their fingerprints on the community. It’s happening. And I’m really glad to be part of that.
I think that the younger generations are recognizing that they can’t sit back and allow things to happen. If they want to see change, they’re realizing that they have to take action. And they’re doing that in positive ways.
What are you proud of?
I’m really proud of what Zandbroz has done. When the pandemic hit and we had to close, it was hard to know what was going to happen. We could never have predicted how much the community showed up for us.
(Zandbroz found ways) to cater to the community and thrive during the pandemic. If it wasn’t for the support of the community, we wouldn't be able to say that.
I’m proud of the fact that Zandbroz hasn’t been afraid to stand up for what we believe and what we value. I know that some of the things that I have written in my column or implemented at Zandbroz haven’t been the most popular, but I’m proud of standing up for the community.
What do small businesses need coming out of the pandemic?
I think that something that small businesses need is for their communities to show up and support them and continue to recognize how important those restaurants and bookstores are to the community. People supporting local and shopping smaller. To recognize that it has been a challenging year.
What does being a bookseller mean in your life?
Zandbroz has always been a home away from home, because of the community that we've created and the friendships that have been formed over the years. It’s a privilege to be an independent bookstore seller. … (Selling a book is) so much more than a transaction. You’re putting something you care about into someone’s hands, and it’s really something special.
What is important about independent bookstores?
Everything. You can buy books, honestly, anywhere these days. Big Box stores, Costco, grocery stores. Independent books stores: each one is curated. It’s going to reflect the bookseller. It’s going to reflect the community. (The owners and salespeople are) going to want to talk about books. They’re going to be able to give you a recommendation. That’s not true at a big box store and certainly not from Amazon.
The beauty is … independent bookstores bring so much life and character to their communities.
What books do you recommend people read?
There are a couple of books that I think everyone should read:
“Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” by Anne Lamott. I have always loved her writing. It is a book about the writing process … and she does it with wit and humor. It’s a book you can apply to anything that you are passionate about.
The other book that I recommend is “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson.
It highlights the misperceptions of race. … Honestly, I learned more from this book than I ever learned in school. It’s provocative, and challenges not only what we know (about race), but what we think we know, and what we want to believe about our country as a whole.
You said in a Facebook post that this is a bittersweet time for you.
It certainly is bittersweet. Zandbroz has been such an integral part of my life for 30 years now. It sort of has defined me for quite a while. …. (I enjoy) the community and the people. I’m going to miss all of it.
Why make the jump to San Francisco?
The best answer … is that I always promised myself that I wouldn’t settle. I had the opportunity to (move) to San Francisco. The opportunity brought my entire fascination for books, my education, my experience as a bookseller and my creativity, brought it all full circle.
It was something I had to try. … I had to stay true to my commitment to never settle. As I much as I feel rooted to the community, I wanted to experience a different environment.
Will you remember us in the big town?
There are a lot of people I will never forget in Fargo. That’s 100% true. This community will never, ever leave me. … I will be proud of my Fargo roots, that’s for sure.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Honestly, I like downtown Fargo and Fargo in general. It’s just such an amazing thing we have. The downtown community is one of the coolest things we have.
There are so many amazing people working to make it all happen. Fargo is lucky to have the small businesses and people working downtown to make it such a cool place.
And one thing will stay the same at Zandbroz: Willow the dog, she’s not going anywhere. She will still be here to greet you every day.