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Bookselling

I’m going to wedge my body in the doorway

December 24th, 2007  |  by  |  published in Bookselling

Bibliophile Bullpen posted this video from Loomis Antiquarian Books in Stillwater, Minnesota, which is closing at the end of the month. It joins Book Baron (Los Angeles), Bogey Books (Davis, Calif), and Blue Dragon Books (Ashland, Ore.) in closing near the end of the year. There are probably more stores that I haven't heard about. As readers of this blog know, my wife (the author Amy Stewart) and I, with our friends, Jack and Peggy, bought Eureka Books as it was about to close. Here's Amy's take on it, as published recently in one of our local papers:

Last week, I called my brother in LA and told him that my husband Scott and I were buying an antiquarian bookstore. He considered our occupations–magazine editor, author, and now bookstore owner–and said, “Wow. Books, magazines–you guys are really getting into a growth industry up there.”

“Yes, we believe the printed page is the wave of the future,” I said, “and we’re investing in it heavily.”

Yikes. As I write this, I have been the part-owner of Eureka Books for less than 24 hours. It’s a grand, glorious old place, crammed to the ceiling with odd and offbeat treasures like Victorian marriage manuals, yellowed sheaves of sheet music, and even a Zane Grey novel bound in flamboyant marbled papers. A few days ago, a book scout came through looking for inventory to sell to dealers, and he pulled out what may be the first novel about Alcoholics Anonymous. The term ‘alcoholism’ was so new, back in the 1940s when the novel was published, that it had to be defined on the dust-jacket flap. The scout paid four bucks for it and may sell it for twenty to a dealer who specializes in AA books. The dealer might sell it to a collector for $120. Every book finds its home eventually. So it goes in the rare book trade.

I don’t know a damn thing about rare books—I like my paperbacks cheap and tattered—but I know that I plan to fight long and hard against the alleged demise of the book. Let the National Endowment for the Arts make dire predictions about the decline in reading. Let Sony, Apple, and Amazon roll out one handheld e-book device after another. I’m having none of it. I love the smell of an old book, I love the heft of a hardcover, and I love getting to know a person by browsing their bookshelves. Surely I’m not the only one. Antiquarian bookstores all over the country are closing their doors, but by God, I’m going to wedge my body in the doorway of this one and keep it open.

Scott, who founded a magazine about rare books, is in charge of figuring out a strategy for making a nineteenth century-style bookstore viable in the twenty-first century. He’s been a book dealer before and he’s in touch with the movers and shakers in the antiquarian book world. Most of them are well past retirement age and their kids aren’t interested in old books. They give him fatherly advice and drop hints about where a few good private collections might be had for a decent price. Several of them have told him that he’s crazy for buying a bookstore in this digital age, but they say it fondly, the way your dad might tell you that you’re crazy for restoring an old Mustang or taking your rock band on the road. It’s crazy, but in a good way.

As for me, I hope to pull a shift in the store once in a while so I can live out my romantic writer/bookstore-owner fantasies. Just yesterday, I was browsing the shelves when I came across a whole section of books on a bit of obscure botanical history that I’ve been interested in lately. I started to pull the books off the shelf to see if I could afford them, and then I thought, “Wait a minute. I’ve already bought them. I totally own all these books.”

That’s a dangerous thought. On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t be allowed to work in the store. I never could stand to part with a good book.

(reprinted from the North Coast Journal, December 12, 2007 issue)


Michael Sharpe, Bookseller

November 7th, 2007  |  by  |  published in Bookselling

Here’s an article on Michael Sharpe, the collector who hired away several of Heritage Book Shop’s employees when that Los Angeles landmark closed recently. To quote, in part:

In just 20 years, Sharpe has amassed works of science, philosophy, medicine, exploration, religion, literature and mathematics, all classified as being in superb condition and worth about $25 million.

Together, they record the growth of Western civilization through everything from a Dead Sea Scroll fragment to “Gone With the Wind.”

But now Sharpe is ready to go from book collector to bookseller.

Michael Sharpe Rare & Antiquarian Books has just opened in a historic Craftsman house at 569 S. Marengo Ave., with a catalogued inventory worth around $8 million, about 20 percent of it from the personal collection kept at his Pasadena home.

“It was a little bit of a wrench,” Sharpe said of shipping some of his private library off to the store.

“I decided to keep history and science over literature,” he said. “I love them all, but it can take six to eight years to build up an inventory.


Bookstore Barbers II

October 26th, 2007  |  by  |  published in Bookselling

Brian Cassidy, who after a number of years selling online bought the Cannery Row Old Book Co. (located inside the Cannery Row Antique Mall) and renamed the shop Brian Cassidy, Bookseller, points out that Ruben Martinez, founder of Libreria Martinez in SoCal, used to be a barber and keeps his old chair in the store as a reminder. A couple of years ago, he won a MacArthur Genius grant.
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