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Unexpected fame

Ely outfitter reaps benefits of romance novel’s popularity

Keith Vandervort
Posted 6/3/20

ELY – In the bleakest darkest days of the economic shut down here this spring due to angst and caution over the coronavirus, an unexpected ray of sunshine focused on a local outfitter’s …

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Unexpected fame

Ely outfitter reaps benefits of romance novel’s popularity


ELY – In the bleakest darkest days of the economic shut down here this spring due to angst and caution over the coronavirus, an unexpected ray of sunshine focused on a local outfitter’s business.
A Twin Cities author, entrepreneur and celebrity of sorts, happened to utilize the services of the Ely Outfitting Co. several years ago for trips with her family into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Her experiences in the outdoors and positive impressions of the city at the end of the road found their way into a romantic comedy novel.
“The Happy Ever After Playlist,” by Abby Jimenez, was an instant hit and top seller on Amazon, and received glowing reviews in national media outlets such as USA Today.
In response, a growing fan base suddenly clamored to get their hands on t-shirts from the now-famous outfitting company.
As Ely Outfitting Co. owner Jason Zabokrtsky related recently, the fledgling author asked him to read her manuscript to “make sure she got things right” in terms of camping in the wilderness and the Ely community.
As it turns out, the main character in “The Happy Ever After Playlist” is named Jason, who grew up in Ely, and worked at his parents’ business named, of course, The Ely Outfitting Company.
“Abby told me the character and description was all coincidence,” Zabokrtsky said. “And of course, the character is strikingly handsome as well, which is also merely a coincidence.”
The character in the story grew up guiding dog sled trips in the winter and canoe trips in the summer, and while the parents still have the outfitting business, “Jason” is launching a music career and moves to Los Angeles and falls in love. (Read brief story synopsis on Page 2B)
In the real world, Zabokrtsky founded Ely Outfitting Co. about 13 years ago, and said he could never make a living by singing. Modesty didn’t allow him to comment on the “ruggedly handsome” moniker.
“I am moved that (Abby) found the Boundary Waters so wonderful to include that and our company and community in her book,” he said. “It was the first romance novel I ever read and I was really impressed. Her characters are really deep and the dialogue is fun if not genuine and real.”
In another coincidence, “The Happy Ever After Playlist” was released just as society shut down because of the COVID-19 health situation.
“Our phones were not ringing at all,” he said. “It was the quietest spring, in terms of (wilderness) trip inquiries and planning, that I’ve ever seen. Nobody wanted to even reach out to us and consider doing a Boundary Waters trip.”
Jimenez’s first novel, “The Friend Zone,” happened to mention a real Midwest business, and a large fan base who discuss the story online decided that having a t-shirt from the business, The Wooden Legs Brewing Co., was necessary.
So, with Jimenez’s second novel, that dedicated fan group expected to have access to t-shirts from the Ely Outfitting Co.
“Abby asked me if we had t-shirts available online,” Zabokrtsky said. “We don’t do that. We have some t-shirts in our outfitting office here on Sheridan Street. Abby warned me that I will probably see an uptick in shirt sales.”
Within two days, Ely Outfitting Co. established an online store in anticipation of the sales rush.
“Abby shared our link with discussion group members and as soon as that happened we were getting a t-shirt sale about every four minutes,” he said. “That lasted for hours. Almost immediately we had well over a hundred of our shirts going out all over the country.”
According to Zabokrtsky, the t-shirt sales windfall was literally the only money coming into his business.
“We had no trip deposits. Sales were down 90-plus percent at the time. We didn’t know if we would even be open this summer. There were some scenarios that were pretty scary,” he said.
“This was a bright spot for us to have a little bit of money coming in and it was fun, to be part of the energy and enthusiasm as Abby’s fans celebrated the book and their passion for the characters,” he added.
Jimenez warned Zabokrtsky that he might get some book tourism business as well.
“I was told that her dedicated fans like to live the book in certain ways. She told me not to be surprised by new customers to Ely Outfitting Co. who want to experience the Boundary Waters.”
As the company’s basic Ely Outfitting Co. logo t-shirt was flying off the shelves, their local supply house, Hand-Done T-Shirts, also enduring the COVID-19 economic downturn, was able to supply the needed inventory.
“We are very appreciative for what they continue to do for us,” he said.
“This was really a fun little experience,” Zabokrtsky said. “It was nice, a ray of light when it was so dark around here this spring. It was nice to get some business to Hand-Done T-Shirts. This really kept me going during this tough time.”
Since the easing of the stay-at-home orders, the phones are ringing again at Ely Outfitting Co.
“We have been getting lots of interest and inquiries as we get closer to summer.”

Meet the author

Abby Jimenez, author of “The Happy Ever Playlist,” is also the founder and owner of Nadia Cakes in the Twin Cities, and is a past winner of the television reality show, Cupcake Wars.
“The Happy Ever After Playlist” was actually the first book I ever wrote and the book that got me my literary agent,” she said. “While we were shopping it to publishers, I had the idea to go back in time and write ‘The Friend Zone’ so we could live through the events that made Sloan who she is in her story. Since ‘The Friend Zone’ came first on the timeline, we led with that as my debut novel.”
She provided a brief synopsis. “Two years after losing her fiancé, Sloan Monroe still can’t seem to get her life back on track. But one trouble-making pup with a ‘take me home’ look in his eyes is about to change everything. With her new pet by her side, Sloan finally starts to feel more like herself. Then, after weeks of unanswered texts, Tucker’s owner reaches out. He’s a musician on tour in Australia. And bottom line: He wants Tucker back.
“Well, Sloan’s not about to give up her dog without a fight. But what if this Jason guy really loves Tucker? As their flirty texts turn into long calls, Sloan can’t deny a connection. Jason is hot and nice and funny. There’s no telling what could happen when they meet in person. The question is: With his music career on the rise, how long will Jason really stick around? And is it possible for Sloan to survive another heartbreak?”
Jimenez suggested that fans read “The Friend Zone” before “The Happy Ever Playlist.”
“Both books are standalone novels, but ‘The Friend Zone’ will give ‘The Happy Ever After Playlist’ so much more depth,” she said.
Jimenez said her real experiences in the Boundary Waters and interactions with the Ely community contributed greatly to the story.
“Whenever I write, I like to name real places and experiences in my stories. I think it is fun for readers to find real places in the fiction they are reading,” she said.