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I’m going to wedge my body in the doorway

December 24th, 2007  |  Published in Bookselling  |  9 Comments

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)

Responses

  1. jgodsey says:

    December 24th, 2007at 4:55 pm(#)

    >I don’t know a damn thing about rare books.
    don’t let that stop you!
    you are eminently qualified!
    I know booksellers who have done this their whole lines who don’t know a damn thing about rare books.

  2. books says:

    December 24th, 2007at 6:44 pm(#)

    I’m going to wedge my body in the doorway

    Nice, bookmarked it!

  3. Old Scout says:

    December 26th, 2007at 7:16 am(#)

    Im excited, nervous, and envious of you all at the same time. I hope there will be more mavericks out there just like you and your wife. By the way when you get that old “Mustang” up and running let us know so we can all go out for a nice drive.
    Good Luck,
    Kyle

  4. Steven Williams says:

    January 8th, 2008at 5:53 pm(#)

    Regarding the dangers of working in your own bookstore, I think most booksellers generally want to and usually desperately need to sell the books we have acquired. My guilty ‘secret’ (I have no doubt that it is widely shared) is that we also tingle a bit because, at least for a short time, we actually possess these books. I cannot remember how many times I have had feelings of regret while packing an interesting book to ship to a buyer. When this happens it is not uncommon for me to, if only fleetingly, consider reporting the book as already sold in order to keep it for myself. Furtunately the limitations imposed by space and income always bring me to my senses.

  5. John Harvey says:

    February 15th, 2008at 4:34 am(#)

    I think the common thread here is that most of us selling books are closet hoarders of the same, especially the rare ones. Sometimes I feel like vetting the buyers, good home, will they take care of it, crazy but true. Regards John.

  6. Barbara Radisavljevic says:

    May 21st, 2009at 10:28 pm(#)

    In my opinion, nothing really replaces a paper book. Books don’t have to be old for me to treasure them, just timeless in their appeal or usefulness. I have expressed my opinions on this in two blog posts: http://barbsbooks.wordpress.com/2009/03/17/are-books-important-or-just-stories/ and http://barbsbooks.wordpress.com/2009/03/22/is-this-what-might-replace-paper-picture-books/. As you can see, I think there’s no real substitute for a real, paper book. A lovely cover is also appealing, as are distinctive illustrations, especially in picture books. Too bad our Congress doesn’t agree that children’s books published before 1985 should be in the hands of children 12 and under for fear they might eat them and get lead poisoning.

  7. Jason says:

    July 14th, 2009at 9:03 am(#)

    May I ask how much the inventory cost you? I am also putting together a business plan to own and run my own bookstore and collectables.
    Thanks,

  8. Bill Ivie says:

    August 2nd, 2009at 7:53 am(#)

    I saw Amy Stewart with Martha Teichner on CBS Sunday Morning this 2nd day of August. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who finds poisoinus plants fascinating. I have most of the killers in my back yard garden. The deadly Castor Bean is part of my landscape at the front of the house. Certain observers who stop by to ask about them do not believe when I call the plants among the most deadly…they know about castor oil, however.
    I’m placing an order for your “Wicked Plants” but I’ll send a check via snail mail. Thanks,
    Bill Ivie, McRae, Georgia

  9. trey says:

    August 27th, 2010at 8:08 am(#)

    Well, a year has gone by since your last commenter posted. How’s the store doing? Are their enough people to keep the doors open? I am in the garden center business, and like book stores we are facing competition with the internet, and box stores. Much like the competition you face with Amazon and Costco.
    You have a passion for your store, and I hope after a year you still have it. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the printed page. I love books, yet do most of my reading on the computer.
    My wife owns a per-school and the kids are read to just like you and I we’re in school. She holds up a book as they sit in a circle and reads, turns a page, shows the kids the picture, and reads some more. I would hate to imagine the experience being played out on a Kindle. I am getting older though and can not speak for the younger generations.
    Good Luck. I hope that someday you can extract yourself from the door jam. Until then…

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