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"If someone comes in and says they read a little of everything, they want the romance section."
January 28, 2012 5:28 PM   Subscribe

25 Things I Learned from Opening a Bookstore.
posted by jeremy b (140 comments total) 73 users marked this as a favorite

 
If you're thinking of giving someone a religious book for their graduation, rethink. It will end up unread and in pristine condition at a used book store

This doesn't surprise me at all. I'm also guessing that all the teenagers on facebook I see with the 'bible' listed as a favorite book have a copy in museum quality condition somewhere in their room.
posted by justgary at 5:32 PM on January 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


26. a few visitors will leave with moist eyes and grateful hearts and uplifted spirits due to the discovery that someone believes the words "opening" and "a bookstore" still belong in the same sentence. they might even buy a book.
posted by ecourbanist at 5:34 PM on January 28, 2012 [66 favorites]


If you open a store in a college town, and maybe even if you don't, you will find yourself as the main human contact for some strange and very socially awkward men who were science and math majors way back when.

This hits close to home.
posted by phrontist at 5:52 PM on January 28, 2012 [18 favorites]


24. It is both true and sad that some people do in fact buy books based on the color of the binding.

Three books have called to me via their binding color in my life.

The first, when I was in college and cruising the college book store, was a totally white cover in a sea of interesting patterns. It was Story of O and how I found out not only that I wasn't the only pervert like myself in the world, but that we could be important enough for college bookstores to stock.

The second I spotted while walking with no interest at all through the children's book section of Walden's on the way to the exit. To this day I can't say what it was that I saw, because it was just another 9x5 trade paperback with pastel coloring like most of the others on the shelf. But it was actually in the wrong section, almost certainly put there by a troll prankster, and it was The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by the then pseudonymous Anne Rice.

The other book that called to me had a black binding, and was Robert Del Tredici's At Work in the Fields of the Bomb. My father was a nuclear physicist and this book set me on a quest to understand just what we have done to ourselves since 1945, which ended in a kuro5hin essay about my visit to the Trinity site.

Either the binding is kind of important, or the gods really do knock books off the shelf into your hands.
posted by localroger at 5:53 PM on January 28, 2012 [23 favorites]


10. This is also true of sex manuals. The only ones who show an interest in these in a small store are the gum chewing kids, who will find them no matter how well you hide them.

Untrue. Once at my store, two blonde women with Swedish accents (I swear) came in and asked me "Vere is de Yooman Sexuality section?"

(The "Dear Penthouse Forum.." never occured because I am pure at heart)
posted by jonmc at 5:54 PM on January 28, 2012 [21 favorites]


If you open a store in a college town, and maybe even if you don't, you will find yourself as the main human contact for some strange and very socially awkward men who were science and math majors way back when.

This hits close to home.


You were a math major?
posted by euphorb at 6:00 PM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


26. People will ask to use your photocopier.
posted by The otter lady at 6:00 PM on January 28, 2012 [12 favorites]


...a totally white cover in a sea of interesting patterns.

I actually picked up a (used) book just yesterday for this exact reason. The entire cover was completely white and the front just had, in plain black text, the author's name and the book's title (which was also pretty generic). It helps that it was an engineering mathematics book, but it was so hilariously "PLAIN BOOK" that I just had to have it.
posted by DU at 6:05 PM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I, too, have an uncanny knack for the worst thing to do at the onset of an economic crisis and opened my own used bookstore just before the inflation of the 1970's. I'd happily projected and indeed reached an income that would have been quite modestly adequate had not double digit inflation set in unleashing a host of terrors.

The business, though, all books all the time, was lovely. I love book people, even the really odd ones. It's true that there are always questions from someone about the free books really being free. Back in those days, there would be the occasional theft of a book or two, primarily from the fantasy and science fiction section. It was funny, I almost always knew but just didn't have the heart to confront a kid who stole a book he wanted to read.

The person who stole my darling mushroom seat from the tiny garden out front, however, has not been forgiven and should be told that I want my mushroom back.
posted by Anitanola at 6:05 PM on January 28, 2012 [31 favorites]


I worked in a bookstore for three years (though it was new books, not used) and all these are 100% accurate.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:19 PM on January 28, 2012


I liked its sweet, tolerant, and quietly humorous tone. These kind of things are so often rants; this was charming and refreshing.
posted by not that girl at 6:23 PM on January 28, 2012 [48 favorites]


It took me a minute to twig that this was "25 Things I Learned from Opening a Used Bookstore." I was just full of questions and advise. Why would you put free books out? You know you can send them back, right? Otherwise you're getting way too much stock from a distributor who doesn't take returns.
posted by thecjm at 6:23 PM on January 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


There was a recent interview with the owner of Looney Tunes, one of the few remaining used record stores in Boston. Quoth the owner:
"This is what I do," he says. "Hanging out with freaks and playing with records — what could be better than that?"
posted by benito.strauss at 6:25 PM on January 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


"Bookstore" and "used bookstore" are not exactly the same concept. Close, but there are different pressures.

12. People buying books don't write bad checks. No need for ID's. They do regularly show up having raided the change jar.

I can assure you, this is not true.

15. If you open a store in a college town, and maybe even if you don't, you will find yourself as the main human contact for some strange and very socially awkward men who were science and math majors way back when. Be nice and talk to them, and ignore that their fly is open.

At the store I ran, I relied on something I called "compassionate indifference." Customers could (and would) tell us anything because a) we did not care and b) we had heard it before, so we would not judge. All we asked is that they not rub themselves against the counter while we listed.*

*To be fair, this last rule was not invoked that often.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:31 PM on January 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


If someone comes in and asks where to find the historical fiction, they're not looking for classics, they want the romance section.

This is so frustrating.

I love historical fiction, by which I mean fictional stories that are meant to get across what a style of life was like for people in different eras, or different cultures, than our own. I am fascinated by details like social courtesies, meal preparations, gender interaction...

....And yet it seems like everyone else in the world understands "historical fiction" to be "stories where bodices are ripped off."
posted by meese at 6:35 PM on January 28, 2012 [22 favorites]


I cannot fathom the level of optimism required to start up a book store, used or new, in this day and age. It's admirable though. I liked this list, very warm-hearted and interesting.
posted by skewed at 6:37 PM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Makes me want to go leaf through some used books. All I have ever found are cards from Jody Azzouni with a po box and a handwritten three digit number in the corner. I gather Jody Azzouni went around sticking these cards into books at bookstores as part of spreading his philosophy that mathmatical objects do not exist. I have friends who have found dozens of them.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:40 PM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Opening a bookstore is my retirement dream. I want to live above it and drink a lot. I think these things go with owning a bookstore.

Friends of mine keep encouraging me to do it now, but I think they are just spiteful and want to take away my retirement dream.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:41 PM on January 28, 2012 [30 favorites]


euphorb: I'm assuming phrontist meant that his fly was open.
posted by avoision at 6:47 PM on January 28, 2012


Opening a bookstore is my retirement dream. I want to live above it and drink a lot.

Bernard? Is that you?
posted by the christopher hundreds at 6:51 PM on January 28, 2012 [57 favorites]


There's a bookstore in town that has cats.

I... I have so many books that started out as "oh, I feel like petting the cats at the bookstore..."
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:55 PM on January 28, 2012 [74 favorites]


There is a certain kind of bookstore that I love to spend time in; what I call the 'Arcane Chaos' style. From a distance, it looks like a messy, uncontrolled disaster. Overpopulated with books, they are crammed horizontally and vertically into the stacks, the shelves groaning and warping under the weight, piles of books stacked on the floor after the stacks on top of the shelves hit the ceiling. Anarchy seems to reign and hidden behind more stacks of books on resting upon the only piece of furniture that isn't a bookshelf, an old man who looks as old as a 1st edition of Ben Hur is lightly sleeping. He is not to be trifled with silly amateur questions like 'Do you have...?', or 'What's this about...?'. If approached, he will stand up and look at you as if he was only faking sleep, and size you up to determine whether or not you are a 'true' book lover, or just a wandering shopper that is not worth investing a reply more than three or four words. He is not arrogant though, he's just efficient and judicious with dispensing his knowledge and efforts. Ask a reasonably intelligent question and his vast knowledge is freely given. His name is John Chandler - "I do my job gettin' 'em [books] in here, they can do theirs' findin' 'em and gettin' 'em out."

His store is like a puzzle or an archeological dig, and the only way to approach it is to dive toward a subject your interested in, and see what turns up. You go in looking for a singular book, but you know deep inside that by the time you leave, you have 10 books that were way more interesting and totally unrelated to what you originally came for that you found along the way.

When just going to buy books becomes it's own little adventure, you know it's going to be good. My favorite bookstore is called Books - Rare, Medium, and Well Done in Chicago.

But don't take my word for it. (ba dun dunt!)
posted by chambers at 6:57 PM on January 28, 2012 [26 favorites]


One of my offspring works at a used bookstore. I enjoy the uniqueness of her co-workers not to mention the ubergeekosity of the clientele.
And it's a great place to pick up Christian books. Heh.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:58 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I opened a bookstore in a small tx town several years ago but I could not tolerate the ultraconservative customer base amongst other things so i sold it to my sister. Anyway many of these rules are clearly region

26. People will ask how to check out a book
27. Do NOT put the new age/metaphysics/magic section anywhere near the religion section, best if you don't have one at all.
28. Do NOT have a gay/lesbian secton.
29. If some random guy comes in the store regularly and you learn his is masturbating but the cops never get there on time, do not lock him in the store until the cops get there, that is illegal detainment and you will be arrested.
30. Going along with the other list, the romance section needs to be the biggest and best categorized section: harlequin, space romance, western romance, vampire romance, historical romance, robot romance, etc
31. That guy writing the trilogy that always wants to talk to you about selling said trilogy has not written a trilogy.
32. When you donate books to the high school: no Stephen King
33. Don't try to stand on principle and refuse to sell cliff notes, especially Shakespeare. Parents lose their shit when you don't cliff notes. That was he most disturbing thing to me about owning that store. Except for the guy that would come in and masturbate (or vice versa)
34. When someone asked who the "Arthur" is they are not talking about the kids cartoon or book or Dudley Moore
35. Best sellers outside of romance are: diet fad books, F'n Joel Olsteen, anything by anyone on Fox News and, awsomely, Eric Carle books
36. No one wants scholarly non fiction EXCEPT American Civil War stuff.
37. Did I mention that some people like to come to the store and masturbate?
posted by holdkris99 at 7:03 PM on January 28, 2012 [57 favorites]


"Soddenly!! the rain ceased!" the wrinkled, graying old shopkeeper coughed out prosaically as he shifted about the myriad multicolored shelves and vertiginous leaning stacks of dusty, aching tomes tessellated perpendicularly throughout his close and dark store, "Poot doze six' man'y'alls back'en thar free bin!!!"

Wrong thread?
posted by carsonb at 7:07 PM on January 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


The thing that I learned from working in a wide array of retail situations is that masturbators are distressingly common.
posted by craichead at 7:11 PM on January 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Chambers, hereabouts that place is The Book Loft.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 7:14 PM on January 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


8. If you put free books outside, someone will walk in every week and ask if they're really free, no matter how many signs you put out .

I ASSURE YOU WE'RE OPEN THESE BOOKS ARE FREE
posted by mediated self at 7:17 PM on January 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


No one wants scholarly non fiction EXCEPT American Civil War stuff.

One of the best bookstores in my town has three rows of scholarly nonfiction that is not even American, much less the civil war. I would hug them for being so wonderful, but as a strange and very socially awkward woman who graduated with a science degree I know to keep my distance.
posted by winna at 7:22 PM on January 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


If some random guy comes in the store regularly and you learn his is masturbating but the cops never get there on time, do not lock him in the store until the cops get there, that is illegal detainment and you will be arrested.

Dude. Were you actually arrested for locking a masturbator in your bookstore? If so, that is the single greatest "story of that one crazy time I got arrested" in all of history.
posted by eugenen at 7:31 PM on January 28, 2012 [30 favorites]


Winna, I actually had a customer once who asked "what's up with all thse books published by colleges?" It was so frustrating. I live in Dallas and there is a great bookstore about 30 miles north of town that is basically three stories of nothing but scholarly nonfiction. Its my favorite place in the world
posted by holdkris99 at 7:32 PM on January 28, 2012


I was particularly struck by how this article was written. Every once in a while I read something on the net that sounds like it was written by somebody who reads books, and not simply websites.

This is one of those times.

Complete sentences...lack of these damn ellipses...lack of memes. Is it just me, or do very few people write like this anymore (at least on the internet?)
posted by The ____ of Justice at 7:38 PM on January 28, 2012 [17 favorites]


holdkris, I think I'm glad you got out of the Texan bookstore biz.

Well, the indie bookstore where I live occasionally has ARCs on hand, which are technically (and legally HAVE TO be) free, but...they require that you spend $20 or something like that before you can have one. Yes, it sounds dumb to say "are these books free?" but sometimes there's loopholes in this world. I would wonder too at this point.

I like this list. Even if the bookshelves bit makes me sad. Of course, I'm also sad because we're down to one used bookstore in my town, and that's the one a guy is running as his retirement hobby. It's volunteer-run and the profits go to charity, from what I hear. While to be honest I am not impressed with his stock so far (he seems geared to books for the math/science masturbator crowd), at least hopefully he won't go out of business due to a lack of profit.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:41 PM on January 28, 2012


Google Second &Charles. You will be cheered and horrified in equal measure.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:47 PM on January 28, 2012


There's a bookstore in town that has cats.

There's a bookstore in my town that has cats. AND CHICKENS.
posted by padraigin at 7:51 PM on January 28, 2012 [12 favorites]


....And yet it seems like everyone else in the world understands "historical fiction" to be "stories where bodices are ripped off."

I always think of Patrick o'Brian. Not a lot of bodice ripping nor covers with Fabio. Perhaps I'm wrong?
posted by nevercalm at 7:52 PM on January 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Tonight MetaFilter is kicking up memories with the retired Black Panther and the used bookstore stories. Talking about kids stealing books reminded me of a book by Abbie Hoffman titled "Steal This Book" -- it was a mass market paperback that came out in 1971. I almost never got it in but when I did, somebody would always snap it up. I don't think anybody ever stole it. I think it was reissued in 2002.

I remember many flower children, even though we were a long way from San Francisco--hippies traveled around a lot and always seemed to find my shop when they drove through town. They were all younger than I was but they had a lot to teach me and their lives fascinated me, so different from mine. Bookstores are great places for storytellers and the seventies were interesting times.
posted by Anitanola at 7:54 PM on January 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Eugenen, I was not but my sister was. It happened a couple of years after I had sold the store to her. No charges ever came of it or anything like that and the guy never showed up again. The store is in an old labyrinthe like house with tonssome of nooksthe and cranniesthe and this dude would come in about once a week and it was ages before anyone knew what was going on. One day someone saw him and told my sister what was up. She called the police but they showed up after he had left. The dude had the balls to roll back in the next weekand once she realized he was in the store she called the police again, and same thing, he he took off on his bike.

A couple of weeks later my sister easnt there, but one of the employees recognized him and called my sister who said that if he was the only one in there to lock the doors from the outside with him in there and call the cops and she headed up to the store. She got there and the cops were there and basically told her that they had no choice to arrest her because the guy called 911the from inside the store claiming to being held captive or some shit

Like I say, nothing came of it and the guy never showed again. She had no way to prove he did anything wrong.
posted by holdkris99 at 8:04 PM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, All right, you twisted my arm Black Books is awesome
posted by NiteMayr at 8:14 PM on January 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


12. People buying books don't write bad checks. No need for ID's.

ha ha ha ha

20. If you don't have an AARP card, you're apparently too young to read westerns.

The used bookstore I worked at's best customer--by far, to the point where one of the employees would drive him to our other store--was a fellow in his mid-nineties who'd been taken prisoner by the Germans at the Bulge and had come back to the US and done a lot of really interesting stuff but mostly he had read 3,000 westerns since he started keeping track around 2000, and God only knows how many before that. We kept an extra box to fill with anything we thought he hadn't read, but we were usually wrong.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 8:34 PM on January 28, 2012 [12 favorites]


A tiny bookstore funded by Kickstarter just opened down the street. I hope it succeeds amazingly, but I don't have high hopes for any bookstores these days.
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:59 PM on January 28, 2012


Yeah, Bunglegirl. The key to having a successful bookstore is a landlord who owns the neighboring stores and rents to you to have a loss leader.
posted by ocschwar at 9:12 PM on January 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


localroger wrote: The other book that called to me had a black binding, and was Robert Del Tredici's At Work in the Fields of the Bomb. My father was a nuclear physicist and this book set me on a quest to understand just what we have done to ourselves since 1945, which ended in a kuro5hin essay about my visit to the Trinity site.

Thank you. I learned today that Google searches for 'kuro5hin' when you type in 'k5'.
posted by wierdo at 9:20 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


My first job was at a bookstore called Know Knew Books. Twice, I had a customer ask me if we carried any new books. Both times, I answered "know," but neither got it.
posted by prefpara at 9:36 PM on January 28, 2012 [12 favorites]


but I don't have high hopes for any bookstores these days

No doubt. Dallas had a new independent bookstore open up about three years back called Legacy Books that was a nice new-only bookstore that tried to cater to a more literate crowd. For those of you who have ever been to the greatness that is Bookpeople in Austin you kind of get the idea of what they were trying to do. But it failed, miserably, for several reasons. For one, they out it in a super high dollar area North of Dallas that caters to the affluent. I liked the selection there but it was a minimum of a 3.0 hr round trip from almost anywhere in Dallas on the public transportation system (which, by the way, didn't run out that way on the weekends!). The store had a fancy cafe that offered coffee that was more expensive than starbucks but tasted just as awful. It was built with a lot of open space, a fancy wide stairwell and a few designer but uncomfortable chairs and couches. What killed the store though, in my opinion, is that it had zero charm, zero atmosphere and it was clearly not going to be allowed to grow or be shaped organically. It reminded me of the faux-WalMart "Uncle Sy" worked in "One Hour Photo." Just bright fluorescent lights and right angles. At least Barnes and Noble and Borders (.) have a little bit, very little bit of ambiance, but not Legacy Books. It was the worst. All of my favorite bookstores are ones that started out small and stayed small or stores that started out small then grew organically in response to the customers needs and wants and through the expertise of their owners. Forget perfectly organized stores with a computer lookup kiosk (I have that at home, or on my Droid). Give me tall shelves with winding aisles. Give me atmosphere. Give me cozy. When I go to my favorite stores I rarely have an exact book in mind when I walk in but I never walk out empty handed.
posted by holdkris99 at 9:54 PM on January 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Someone should open an ebook store with 'shelves' that are giant touch screens where you can select a book from the shelf and flip through it like you would at a normal book store, then buy it and have it sent to your phone/ipad/computer/whatever. It would be like shopping at a bookstore and website combined.

You could do the exact same thing faster on Amazon, and more efficiently, and cheaper... but where's the fun in that?
posted by Malice at 9:55 PM on January 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well, except that Amazon doesn't have the browsing. And the dusty, fortuitous finds.

Toronto is still lovely, but *god* I miss the 90's: I lived on Robert at Harbord, two blocks from Robarts, and around the corner from three awe-inspiring used bookstores: Abby, About and Atticus -- plus the Toronto Women's Bookstore. All carried academic non-fiction by the pitchforkload: Atticus was the worst, or perhaps the best, and it was the one I needed to pass every day on my way home from the library. Fully half my income disappeared into it. One by one they went: Atticus was the last, and they now sell only online.
posted by jrochest at 10:26 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Behold the tottering-heaps-and-all that is MacLeod's Books at West Pender and Richards in Vancouver. I've heard it's where Hollywood people go to hang out on a rainy day when shooting in town.
posted by moneyjane at 11:06 PM on January 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't have high hopes for any bookstores these days.

Ours is doing pretty good, knock wood. Used books, cds, lps, dvds, comics, but mostly books. About a quarter to a third of our business comes from online orders via Abe, but overall sales have been steady or slightly increasing for as long as I can remember.

Funny story: a reporter from the local paper came calling a month or so ago with an idea in her head about how ebooks are killing the used book business. We told her the truth - we were keeping a close eye on it but so far hadn't seen an ebook-related decline at all and loved the net for what it had done for our business - and laughed when she called back after the interview to question if we were telling the truth (I'm guessing the real skeptic was her editor). So we told her to call another bookstore opened a few years back by an awesome couple in a nearby town, and whose business had grown so much it had just moved into a bigger storefront to meet the demand. The owner of that store later shared that he actually told the reporter at one point, "Look, I get the feeling you want me to say something that isn't true. But our business is growing."

Their store didn't show up in the article.

In other news, the friendly neighborhood locally-owned video store chain is currently in the process of opening a new location in the former husk of a dead Blockbuster. They're doing pretty good, too. Go figure.

Oh, we passed this list around the store earlier in the week and loved it. So much of it is dead on target. Don't get me started on folks who ask for a recommendation then respond to "What's the last book you read that you liked?" with a blank stare. Arrrgh.
posted by mediareport at 11:09 PM on January 28, 2012 [12 favorites]


Finally someone explains why my neighborhood used bookstore has a MASSIVE religion section with multiple shelves for each major world religion, despite the fact that it's in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where I'd guess that at least half of all people browsing in a used bookshop are atheists.
posted by Sara C. at 11:32 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I went to Legacy Books a couple of times, and did find a couple of books I hadn't been able to locate anyplace else. And it was a cold, sterile bookstore. Plus it was so far away from my house-and most of Dallas-that getting there was a destination trip. Oh, and it hosted a Sarah Pailn signing, thus guaranteeing it of having Bad Karma forever.
posted by Not The Stig at 12:28 AM on January 29, 2012


he seems geared to books for the math/science masturbator crowd

What the hell?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:54 AM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


The entire cover was completely white and the front just had, in plain black text, the author's name and the book's title

Review copies quite often look like this, though depending on the publishing house it might be a kind of pale blue-gray or green-gray instead of white.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:32 AM on January 29, 2012


The used record store near my place, which opened around 2004, recently expanded into two storefronts. They have high turnover and decent prices. The reason they haven't stagnated, gone broke or turned into a boutique is that they do half their business online.

They're also friendly, know their inventory well, and they don't glare at you or judge what you buy for coolness points
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:02 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


he seems geared to books for the math/science masturbator crowd

What the hell?


I was confused at first, thinking that perhaps Isaac Newton was a problem at the store, but then I realized that it was a conflation of two of the points (undersocialized math/science people and masturbators), and moved on. Since the door was unlocked, don't you know?
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:25 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sara C that bookstore on 7th ave with the cat, dog and iguana immediately sprang to mind when someone above mentioned going into their local bookstore just to pat the cat (NOT a euphemism for masturbating!) And often came out with a book purchase as well.
posted by bquarters at 4:10 AM on January 29, 2012


All of my favorite bookstores are ones that started out small and stayed small or stores that started out small then grew organically in response to the customers needs and wants and through the expertise of their owners

One of my favorite bookstores started out in a basement and, due to demand, bought the two adjacent buildings out. I love that place.
posted by ersatz at 4:13 AM on January 29, 2012


People buying books don't write bad checks.

Unless they're Courtney Love.
posted by Houyhnhnm at 5:31 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sad times for secondhand bookshops. I always wanted to visit Serendipity Books in Berkeley, and now I never will. The remaining stock is being sold off at auction next month.

Obligatory George Orwell link.
posted by verstegan at 5:56 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one to be really bothered by this sentence?

There's no need to tell them they're probably not insuring financial security for their grandkids with that signed Patricia Cornwell they have at home.

Or isn't it normal to be annoyed that someone who apparently loves books so much as to open a bookstore in the current circumstances seems to ignore the difference between insuring and ensuring?
posted by Skeptic at 5:57 AM on January 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


You will have no trouble getting books, the problem is selling them. Plus a shortage of storage space for all the Readers Digest books and encyclopedias that people donate to you.

As someone who handles donated books for the local library I agree. We're swimming in donated books to the point that we're opening a little used book shop inside one of our libraries to handle them all instead of just having periodic book sales.

A couple of things I've noticed about donations:
1. Sci-fi and fantasy books rarely get donated. If you are a sci-fi or fantasy fan, you love your books like your own children and can't imagine parting with that worn copy of Neuromancer. One time I processed a large donation of books from someone who must have loved Neal Stephenson and Tolkien. Each box was a delight to open. Turns out the young man had passed away unexpectedly and his parents were cleaning out his apartment. :(
2. The reverse is true of romance novels and James Patterson titles. There's no lasting connection between the readers and the stories and so those come in looking like the bindings have been barely touched.
3. To make sure they get to claim the charitable deduction at the end of the year, people will bring in boxes of 10-year old software manuals, tattered magazines, and coffee-stained paperbacks--act like they're donating gold bricks--and insist on a receipt.
posted by Revie1 at 6:08 AM on January 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


One of the bookstores in Seattle that has cats had a problem with the cats getting shoplifted, and would check bags for cats on the way out. People can be weird.
posted by Artw at 6:10 AM on January 29, 2012 [19 favorites]


There's a used bookstore down in greenwood with a huge collection of 70s Sci-Fi, far more than I could ever buy or read. I'm pretty much guessing it's from a single dead guy.
posted by Artw at 6:13 AM on January 29, 2012


Or isn't it normal to be annoyed that someone who apparently loves books so much as to open a bookstore in the current circumstances seems to ignore the difference between insuring and ensuring?

Merriam-Webster defines insure as follows:
1: to provide or obtain insurance on or for
2: to make certain especially by taking necessary measures and precautions

So I think the blogger is OK in her usage.
posted by JimDe at 6:23 AM on January 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Or isn't it normal to be annoyed that someone who apparently loves books so much as to open a bookstore in the current circumstances seems to ignore the difference between insuring and ensuring?

Honestly, if you're going to be that petty about someone who clearly cares about books, then we're gonna put you in the room down the hall from the creepy masturbators.

One of the bookstores in Seattle that has cats had a problem with the cats getting shoplifted, and would check bags for cats on the way out. People can be weird.

People gotta eat.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:36 AM on January 29, 2012 [14 favorites]


Half-Price Books is opening a store a couple miles from my house in a couple of weeks, and I couldn't be more excited. I travel for work, and I love ending up in a city with one or more of them. I particularly love the mother-ship location in Dallas. I can't visit my folks in Corpus Christi without going there once or twice. I get more out of the clearance racks than their normal stock. It's amazing what doesn't sell, even at used prices.
posted by hwestiii at 6:55 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is a good list. I'm on my way to work at a used bookstore right now - which is doing very well; this economy is actually good for those of us who need to basically pawn our books and CDs. Hopefully today we won't have any creepy masturbators (keeping the erotica near the bathrooms is a decision we periodically rethink because occasionally we find it in there when we go to clean, erp, gah) and the old, old gentlemen who read westerns won't completely destroy the section when they go to search for that one elusive William R. Johnstone they haven't read yet. I will add this:

27. People who are trying to sell you their books will be deeply offended when you refuse to take them no matter if a) the books are full of bugs, cat vomit and mysterious sticky stains or b) you already have 300 copies or c) the spines are totally split and the covers are torn. "But it's a great book!" they will say plaintively, "You HAVE to take it!"
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:56 AM on January 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's a bookstore in town that has cats.

And there are people who are allergic to cats. I wish twee little bookstores wouldn't do this.
posted by Legomancer at 6:59 AM on January 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


I was particularly struck by how this article was written. Every once in a while I read something on the net that sounds like it was written by somebody who reads books, and not simply websites.

Yeah, I think part of that has to do with it being on Open Salon—there's an openness in the community that doesn't require lulzy in-jokes. It's pretty refreshing!
posted by limeonaire at 7:13 AM on January 29, 2012


I always wanted to visit Serendipity Books in Berkeley, and now I never will. The remaining stock is being sold off at auction next month.

I went on vacation to the Bay Area in the spring of last year. I had heard about Serendipity Books at least 10 years ago and had wanted to visit ever since. Peter Howard died about a month before my trip and I was fortunate that my trip coincided with the first reopening of his store.

It really was as advertised. Amazing place.

Sad to see it (and all the other 'Used and Rare' bookstores) go.
posted by BigSky at 7:14 AM on January 29, 2012


I am currently looking for a job in Miami Beach. After reading that, I have now decided I am looking for a shitload of money so I can open a used bookstore ON Miami Beach. MeMail me if you have money to support me on my dream of drinking, reading, and meeting the masses right on the beach. Seriously, that's so many perfect dreams combined into one wonderful mess.
posted by Folk at 7:14 AM on January 29, 2012


And there are people who are allergic to cats. I wish twee little bookstores wouldn't do this.
I'm allergic to dust. I've just come to the conclusion that I'm a library person, not a twee little bookstore person.

(Not all second-hand bookstores send me into asthma meltdown, but the non-dusty ones tend not to be the twee, little, cat-infested ones.)
posted by craichead at 7:14 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


My two favorite used book stores in town both have comics/graphic novels sections, which is a godsend. One thing I've noticed: nobody ever, ever sells their volumes of Cerebus. Not even Reads.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:25 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can have my worn copy of Neuromancer when you pry it from my cold dead hands.
posted by bukvich at 7:31 AM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I live 10 minutes' walk from the largest used bookstore in Canada (Russell's), which continues to take over neighbouring retail space, and also has an underground "annex" a couple of blocks away in case you just need more books. About a block away is Munro's books (also ten minutes' walk from my house, and owned by Jim Munro, former husband of Alice Munro), probably Canada's most beautiful independent bookstore. A short walk away there are two blocks dominated by used bookstores and comic book stores (and Ditch Records, one of two remaining vinyl shops in town).

If I am looking for a particular book, I head up the highway to Sidney, which is a "book town", and has at least 8 specialty bookshops.

It's awesome to live here sometimes.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:35 AM on January 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Where I grew up, the crammed full of books used book store is the Book Barn. They have LOTS of cats, a dog, and two goats. Started with the original barn and kept adding new buildings as they grew, then some new locations when they filled up their original plot.

See also: Used Books: The Movie, a short film starring the store.
posted by Arturus at 7:40 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I always wanted to open a used book store, but around here that would mean competing with Half Price, and that would be like going up against Walmart. Not that half price is like Walmart I'm evil, but they're a huge presence here, with the mothership 30 miles away, and daughter stores all over. If they thought a store could survive where I am, they'd have put one here. On the upside, I love half price, and am always finding strange and new stuff I'm their stacks.
posted by dejah420 at 8:02 AM on January 29, 2012


I cannot fathom the level of optimism required to start up a book store, used or new, in this day and age. It's admirable though.

I have this foolish dream to buy a house with a shop in the bottom. You still find them now and then in my part of the world - rickety old things with a shopfront for a bottom level and a home above. They're almost always set up as private homes these days. I would buy it, and live in it, with my family, so as to defray costs. Commuting is cheap when it's a flight of stairs.

Then I would move my own library, which is large and carnivorous and is slowly filling every room of my home, down into the shop. I have a big old ledger for the numbers and a fast little notebook to keep track of the titles and the inevitable online store. I would price things entirely based on how likely it is I will desire to reread it. So, the pulpy paranormal romances I buy on occasion while trapped at train stations would be a buck, and my Pratchetts and Harnetts and the odd one-hit-wonders would be a hundred billionty. I would discount these for wide eyed teenagers and sad lonely people, down to nothing, because one of the wonderful things about retail is that you develop a knack for what people need, not what they want, and being able to fill a hole with a book would let me die happy.

In the mornings would have a little tea set and a coffee machine set to stroke inducing potency and I would open the little shop as soon as I had woken and bathed, and set myself at the counter with whatever interesting new additions I had acquired and read them, to check that there were no bugs folded into the leaves, of course. The little old ladies with their gentle lavender rinses and scorchingly hot romance novels, leathery old men after soppy westerns and a few dipping their toes in the other's pool. Chatty in the way that only pensioners can be chatty.

I have children in this dream, and because it's a dream they all love my bookshop too, but being children and the children of my blood they would inevitably drag their friends around till the place was full of little ratbags burrowing away, finding borrowers and babysitters, black beauties and Narnia, and my afternoons become a mess of kids and cleaning, homework between the stacks and phone calls from parents wondering if I can send their spawn home sometime, please. They get older and roll their eyes at my old fashioned hobby but are secretly pleased to have something big and useful for schoolwork and university papers, not to mention weekend work, when it suits them of course.

In the evenings I'd close long enough for supper, but after I'd drink wine on the footpath and chat to commuters and the night people, citronella to keep the bugs away, a platter of Camembert and figs to share. I would close late, balance my books and shelve the things I'd read that day, mourn the things I'd sold and rejoice in their new owners, eyes glued to their prizes, clutched tightly underarm as they cross my threshold and back out into the world.
posted by Jilder at 8:19 AM on January 29, 2012 [66 favorites]


Am I the only one to be really bothered by this sentence? .....Or isn't it normal to be annoyed ...

Go pet one of the cats for a while. You'll feel better.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:28 AM on January 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


>I love historical fiction, by which I mean fictional stories that are meant to get across what a style of life was like for people in different eras, or different cultures, than our own. I am fascinated by details like social courtesies, meal preparations, gender interaction...

....And yet it seems like everyone else in the world understands "historical fiction" to be "stories where bodices are ripped off."


Wow. You're clearly not hanging out with people who read romance, then. For one, people who read the genre don't really like the term "bodice-ripper," since it's insulting and inaccurate - and, in fact, clearly reflects only one thing: the speaker's ignorance about an entire genre of fiction. Secondly, since most romance readers (as this article acknowledges, albeit with tongue-in-cheek) do read widely -- they are avid readers, period -- they probably understand far better than most -- even you, I guess, based on your comments! -- the distinction between genres. Historical romance: Judith Ivory, Roberta Gellis, Laura Kinsale, Julia Quinn. Historical fiction: Sharon Kay Penman, Patrick O'Brien, Elizabeth Chadwick. And so on.

Since your contempt seems firmly in palce, I won't recommend that you check out Kinsale and Gellis and Ivory - but if you did, I think you'd discover stories that precisely get across "what a style of life was like for people in different eras, or different cultures, than our own....details like social courtesies, meal preparations, gender interaction."

(Julia Quinn, not so much. :)
posted by artemisia at 8:31 AM on January 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Go pet one of the cats for a while. You'll feel better.

CATS ARE FOR IN STORE REASSURANCE ONLY.
posted by Artw at 8:32 AM on January 29, 2012 [17 favorites]


You can have my worn copy of Neuromancer when you pry it from my cold dead hands.

That reminds me of my standard response to someone who, after we've rejected most of the not-so-great books they've brought us, asks "Well what kind of books do you like?"

I gently reply, "Probably the ones you left on your shelf at home."
posted by mediareport at 8:34 AM on January 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


When I returned to Canada from Japan, I realized that over half of my belongings in storage were books, so I've made it a policy ever since then to get rid of them. Generally, I only purchase and keep hard-to-find books related to my work, or Japanese-language books about specific topics (ghosts, folklore) that are impossible to find where I live.

What this means is I haven't actually bought an English-language book in about 5 years. Instead, I trade in my books (usually at Russell's) for credit. The initial downsizing of hundreds of books left me with a lot of startup credit, and as a book gets read it goes back to be recycled as credit.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:45 AM on January 29, 2012


This reminds me of David Garnett's Never Be A Bookseller (1929).
posted by octobersurprise at 8:45 AM on January 29, 2012


Jilder... please, just stop... I... I have something in my eye now...
posted by scolbath at 9:03 AM on January 29, 2012


My favorite bookstore is called Books - Rare, Medium, and Well Done in Chicago.

Um, is this place not called Bookman's Corner? I am almost positive it's called Bookman's Corner. There is what I take to be a sister store in Evanston called Bookman's Alley (it is really in an alley). I think this is just a joke on the window. It's my favorite bookstore, too! In fact, as you were describing "arcane chaos" the whole time I was thinking, "Man, that sounds just like Bookman's Corner".
posted by adamdschneider at 9:03 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Re: Optomism: One of the best indie bookstores in my area has had an interesting couple of years. In about 2007, they expanded and opened a very shiny new bookstore on the main drag in a new building, where rents are high. Timing is everything. Between the rents, the economic crisis, the e-reading trend, and the squeeze that's being put on booksellers by publishers (why bother catering to take orders from a small bookstore when Amazon will move thousands of units for you easy-peasy), they found they weren't making it.

So the owner did a kind of cool, bold move, which involved taking the situation to the community. The community definitely really, really wants to maintain a bookstore in the town. So they came up with a new scheme which involves community investors buying shares, a volunteer corps, a move to a lower-rent location, and expanding the used book line using volunteer pickups. They are just getting ready to re-open in the new location. This has been an interesting and unconventional approach which seems extremely smart.

And a shout-out to two magnificent used bookstores, worth the side trip: The previously mentioned Book Barn in Niantic, CT, and the Montclair Book Center in Montclair, NJ. I'm one of those few people that makes a beeline for the scholarly nonfiction that's NOT about the Civil War, and Montclair's being a college town means there's tons of awesome cultural history for cheep.

18. People use whatever is close at hand for bookmarks--toothpicks, photographs, kleenex, and the very ocassional fifty dollar bill, which will keep you leafing through books way beyond the point where it's pr0ductive.

Finding enclosures in books is awesome. The bookstore in my links has a wall full of things found in books. I used to compile mine on a blog, but then I ran out of enclosures I found in books so it's been dormant for 5 years.

I've always wanted to compile a list of books that you always, always seen in used bookstores and yard sales. It's like they become familiar players. I think this is because they were major bestsellers, exploiting a particular zeitgeist, which now seem impossibly dated. Some I've noticed repeatedly:

-Think and Grow Rich!
-Portnoy's Complaint
-I'm OK You're OK
-Future Shock
-Passages
posted by Miko at 9:11 AM on January 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


I had a friend snarking on Facebook about why anyone would buy books when there are libraries. But I like supporting local bookstores. I'll hold out to buy something from BookCourt in Brooklyn rather than pick it up at Amazon or B&N.

People will snark about anything.
posted by sweetkid at 9:22 AM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Bookman's Alley in Evanston is one of a kind, and has no sister store. And its owner is retiring.
posted by RedEmma at 9:22 AM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Our local used bookstore, Derby Square Bookstore, has moved beyond firetrap, past an episode of Hoarders, and has burst on through to the other side. The bookshelves, when you can see them, are held together with bungee cords.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:28 AM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


a list of books that you always, always see in used bookstores and yard sales.

Arthur Miller's Timebends. It's a rare used bookstore or Antique Mall that doesn't have a copy or more of that book.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:33 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always wanted to compile a list of books that you always, always seen in used bookstores and yard sales. It's like they become familiar players. I think this is because they were major bestsellers, exploiting a particular zeitgeist, which now seem impossibly dated.

....or bestsellers that turned out not to be easy reading. Like so for instance there was a while when every college town used bookstore in the world had exactly one copy of the hardcover first edition of Ada, which nobody ever seemed to buy.

I don't even like the book (sure enough, I found the first few chapters completely unreadable) but I do find it tremendously comforting to see its cover peering down from a shelf somewhere, because it means I'm back in one of those old dusty incredibly earnest used bookstores that I spent too much time lurking in in the 80s and 90s.

Actually, anything in Optima has that effect on me. It's like visual shorthand for "Here you will find men with greying beards, compost heaps and strong opinions on social justice and Dylan Thomas."
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:40 AM on January 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


octobersurprise, you are so right. Our copy has been there for years. The thinking is pretty obvious - it's like, Arthur damn Miller, right? He gets assigned regularly year after year; we sell tons of copies of Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, and THE GUY WAS FUCKING MARRIED TO MARILYN MONROE. Surely someone will be interested in his autobiography?!



I'm gonna put it on the dollar table tomorrow.
posted by mediareport at 9:42 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Artw: "Go pet one of the cats for a while. You'll feel better.

CATS ARE FOR IN STORE REASSURANCE ONLY.
"

If someone wants to pay the shipping, I could always Fedex overnight my little buddy. Loving, playful and extremely pettable. I do though want him back.
posted by Samizdata at 9:55 AM on January 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Finally a business model that works!
posted by Artw at 10:05 AM on January 29, 2012


I work at a used bookstore. This list made me laugh, mostly. Yesterday at work I had a customer say (while we were quite busy) "It's good to see so many people - there is hope for you yet!" It took all of my will to not make a snarky comment, because we're doing pretty well.

I have a theory that Borders being gone will be bad for used bookshops in general, because there aren't as many places for people to go impulse buy books and then sell them back to the friendly local used bookshop.

And RedEmma - it's a bummer about Bookman's Alley. They've been around forever.
posted by bibliogrrl at 10:16 AM on January 29, 2012


nebulawindphone: My god, I have a hardcover first ed of Ada.

Destiny.
posted by Jilder at 10:17 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sigh... bookstores, used and new... grew-up in 'em. (And libraries) The joy of finding one that had older RPG titles, riding my bike 10-15km to get to the row of them downtown.

Even though I am "trying" to transition to eBooks (at least for technical topics) - I find I still browse the stacks at our local used chain (Fair's Fair) - which is doing well and expanding locations all the time. Reading a paper-book is still so much more satisfying than the electronic alternative (via a BeBook Reader, iPad or iPhone)... So... actually, it has now become a "guilty pleasure" - I don't think I am alone in that, I think there will be growth in used-bookstores for awhile...
posted by jkaczor at 10:34 AM on January 29, 2012


a list of books that you always, always see in used bookstores and yard sales

The Artist's Way
posted by overeducated_alligator at 10:40 AM on January 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Our local used bookstore, Derby Square Bookstore, has moved beyond firetrap, past an episode of Hoarders, and has burst on through to the other side. The bookshelves, when you can see them, are held together with bungee cords.

Not only that - when my partner went in there before Christmas to look for books to give me as a present, he got frustrated because most of the books that interested him were about midway down in an 8-foot stack. He took a look at the proprietor and just felt bad bothering him to ask about whether he'd dismantle the book tower just to let Steve look at a book he wasn't sure yet he wanted to buy - let alone more than one of them. So, kind of feeling like it just wasn't working out that day, he walked out the front door, and the proprietor said snarkily "Thank you for browsing locally."

Way to be sure we will go elsewhere!
posted by Miko at 10:59 AM on January 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Bookman's Alley in Evanston is one of a kind, and has no sister store.

Huh, weird. Still, I'm pretty sure the one chambers is talking about is called Bookman's Corner. I've been there since that article, though, and there were still books on the floor.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:00 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I would discount these for wide eyed teenagers and sad lonely people, down to nothing, because one of the wonderful things about retail is that you develop a knack for what people need, not what they want, and being able to fill a hole with a book would let me die happy."

I think some of the stories in this AVClub Pop Pilgramage to City Lights bookstore are relevant.
posted by midmarch snowman at 11:03 AM on January 29, 2012


a list of books that you always, always see in used bookstores and yard sales

I keep finding copies of A.S. Byatt's Possession in the clearance pile at every Half Price Books I visit.

What really kills me, though, is when I go into a new bookstore and find a big stack of something I love on the remainder table. A couple of weeks ago it was a big stack of Skippy Dies at Elliot Bay Book Company. I sort of wanted to hug them and tell them everything would be okay... poor little books. Someone will eventually stumble upon you in a used bookstore while looking for something "Joycean, but not too," and then you will be read and cherished! I promise!

No, wait. What REALLY kills me is buying a used book and finding an inscription on the inside cover. I always wonder if the owner of the book died and all their books were given away or sold, or if the relationship soured between the inscription writer and the former book owner... either way, it bums me out a little. I only have one book that someone inscribed for me before they gave it, and while I now kind of strongly dislike the person who gave it to me, I liked them when they gave me the book, and it's a good inscription -- "May your life be as full of fun and adventure as this book," in a hardback copy of Where The Sidewalk Ends. So... yeah. Not a big fan of the gift-giver now, but I'll never ever give that away. It would kind of feel like bad karma, if that makes even a lick of sense.
posted by palomar at 11:16 AM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


My favourite bookstore: "Pulp Fiction, in Vancouver; it's on Main Street, about two blocks from where I live. It's primarily used books, but they also bring in new publications and can special order like lightning. From their site:

WHAT'S UP WITH THE PLASTIC RATS?

We can't have a store cat because of severe allergies on the part of several staff. A customer gave us the white plastic rat several years ago, reasoning that the rat would be safe in the store because we lacked a cat. The black rat and numerous plastic baby rats have all arrived subsequently as anonymous gifts and/or mystery "births."
posted by jokeefe at 11:37 AM on January 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Argh, I borked the link, which I blame on trying to type with a cat draped over my left arm and lap. It's Pulp Fiction.
posted by jokeefe at 11:38 AM on January 29, 2012


I've always wanted to compile a list of books that you always, always seen in used bookstores and yard sales. It's like they become familiar players.

Don't forget The Good News Bible, Dianetics, and 'Salem's Lot.
posted by aught at 11:43 AM on January 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Behold the tottering-heaps-and-all that is MacLeod's Books

And be sure and ask after anything you don't see there, and they will take you up the street to their annex, not normally open to the browsing public, which is several times as large and filled to the twenty-foot ceilings with rare and unusual treasures.
posted by Fnarf at 12:25 PM on January 29, 2012


palomar: No, wait. What REALLY kills me is buying a used book and finding an inscription on the inside cover. I always wonder if the owner of the book died and all their books were given away or sold, or if the relationship soured between the inscription writer and the former book owner... either way, it bums me out a little.

Occasionally, the inscriptions are from an over-earnest English teacher. When I was in undergrad, the my lit and writing profs would give everybody books at the end of the semester, with inscriptions usually involving something we wrote in a paper or whatnot. When I taught in gradschool I did the same thing, only to have all my coworkers look at me with disdain and say, "You're giving your students books? You know they're just going to sell them to a used book store a week later, don't you?" And I said, "didn't your profs give you book at the end of the semester? I have a shelf full that make me really happy, even if that one prof greatly overestimated my positive feelings about Faulkner." And they would always say, "No, that's kind of weird."

So there's probably a used book store down in central georgia full of books with my earnest, full page inscriptions explaining to my students why Sylvia Plath really reminds me of them. It works either way, really.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 12:26 PM on January 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


The experience of browsing in a bookstore and finding a new author serendipitously, the pleasure of books can't be replicated with digital books. For at least some period of time, we will still be able to have that experience with used books.

27. Someone will ask "Have you read all these books?"
28. Someone will say "Must be nice to hang out here and read all day." yeah, the books unpack themselves and leap onto the shelves, the checks write themselves and leap into the mail to the landlord. etc. But, yes, it is, in fact, a pleasure the spend the day surrounded by books, and talking to people who like books. Which is good, because if you own a small business, you're gonna work @ 60 hours a week.
29. Someone will ask "Do you discount?" Thanks, Walmart, Amazon, Borders, etc.
30. Some man will ask "Where's the Men's Section?" in a bookstore with Women's section. The thought bubble above my head says History, Philosophy, Psychology, Finance ....
and, best of all,
31. Someone will say "I love this store."

My old bookstore closed a couple years ago. I'm so glad mediareport's store, and others, are still around.
posted by theora55 at 1:48 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


> There's a used bookstore down in greenwood with a huge collection of 70s Sci-Fi, far more than I could ever buy or read. I'm pretty much guessing it's from a single dead guy.

Actually, I'd bet they are from the Horizon bookstore that was on 15th on Cap Hill that closed and moved to 10th and Pike. That place was pretty much condemned once they moved out. But stacks of pulp scifi and independent books.

> Some I've noticed repeatedly:
-Think and Grow Rich!
-Portnoy's Complaint
-I'm OK You're OK
-Future Shock
-Passages


What Color is your Parachute
Chicken Soup For ***
posted by mrzarquon at 2:09 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


nebulawindphone: My god, I have a hardcover first ed of Ada.

Yes, but have you read it? :)
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:35 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I live in a little pink corner of a blue county in a blue state. It's that way because there are several good Catholic private schools in the area. The neighborhood used to have a fairly large thrift shop with a large used books section. This section used to freak me partly because the used books had that one-time trendiness, with dated graphic design tending towards a grown-up version of the books here. The thrift shop's used books section clearly was not curated in any way; they just put out whatever they received that was in decent shape. It was like a graveyard of popular ideas.

Many of the used books seemed to belong to a particular group of people, with interests in right-wing politics and morals, so there were always multiple copies of William Bennett's books, and the self-help books for women had a Surrendered Wife vibe.

(not implying all Catholics are right-wing; perhaps some people went apostate / liberal and donated the books to get rid of them; the books belonged to the previous generation, etc.)
posted by bad grammar at 4:15 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, I don't believe I have. Time to start looking for that house then. I imagine the kids will sort themselves out.
posted by Jilder at 5:11 PM on January 29, 2012


If anyone knows of a bookstore with cats in NYC, I would be very willing to to stop by and pet the cats and buy more books I don't have space for.
posted by miskatonic at 5:22 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bookcourt on Court Street in Brooklyn has a cat.
posted by sweetkid at 6:09 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would just like to note that Ripley at Borderlands in San Francisco is my favorite bookstore cat. I don't even read scifi/fantasy, and I like to go there just to visit the cat. Last time I was there, they had some Sphynx kittens too. Sort of scary-looking but omgsocuddly.
posted by naoko at 6:26 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always wanted to compile a list of books that you always, always seen in used bookstores and yard sales.

I've always wanted to make a similar list for records. Tapestry, Dancing on the Ceiling, Paint Your Wagon...
posted by box at 7:41 PM on January 29, 2012


28. Someone will say "Must be nice to hang out here and read all day."

Oh yeah, that one. It doesn't matter how you respond - "It's a good day when I get through skimming the Times" is my first reaction - they will still walk away thinking how awesome it is to sit around and read books on the clock all day. It's a great job, for sure - the information that just flows over your hands can be fascinating - but it's rare to get more than a few minutes to read a dust jacket or three.

You do get a good sense of the diversity of what's out there, though - in both people and data.

Oh and it's not my store, I'm just one of the two fulltime folks who manage most of the day-to-day stuff (and get health insurance, thank the gods).
posted by mediareport at 7:58 PM on January 29, 2012


> I would just like to note that Ripley at Borderlands in San Francisco is my favorite bookstore cat.

Unfortunately, Ripley passed away in 2010. Looks like they still haven't updated their website.
posted by mrzarquon at 8:55 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always wanted to make a similar list for records. Tapestry, Dancing on the Ceiling, Paint Your Wagon...

Rasputin's $1.95 bins are good for this sort of ubiquitous-but-unwanted research. In the A's: Ace of Base's The Sign and lots (and lots and lots) of Tori Amos.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:22 PM on January 29, 2012


Books every bookstore has: the goldenrod hardcover of Bhagavad Gita - As It Is, produced by some Baba I can't recall the name of.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:03 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's a bookstore in town that has cats.
There's a bookstore in my town that has cats. AND CHICKENS.

Where I grew up, the crammed full of books used book store is the Book Barn. They have LOTS of cats, a dog, and two goats.

Aw damn. I was just coming down here to one-up padraigin and the chickens, and Arturus beat me to it (good thing I ctrl-F'd "goats"). I was just at the Book Barn this weekend. One of my favorite places in the state, if not the world. And this weekend, 30% off sale and a good cuddle with a black cat named Frankie. All's right with the world.
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:09 AM on January 30, 2012


Books every bookstore has: Two Years Before the Mast, by Richard Henry Dana. Everyone's least favorite Harvard Classic.

You used to see a lot of copies of Blinking With Fists, by Billy Corgan, but someone's been buying them all up to further some dark and unnameable purpose.
posted by Iridic at 8:42 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I gently reply, "Probably the ones you left on your shelf at home."

I recall I sold a book, that I was tempted to leave at home, with a bunch of others to a used bookstore. I realized later when I went back in they had given me a tenth of the price they were reselling it for. Was that smart business, or did I get ripped off? Or perhaps both? They not only lost a customer, but also bought a bad impression of the place from someone. Maybe I'm naive, but I would rather have had them either try to give me a fair deal or at least say it was worth something when buying it. I took it as lessoned learned, but I'm wondering how some of the bookstore people here deal with that. All is fair when buying books, or what?
posted by P.o.B. at 11:17 AM on January 30, 2012


I realized later when I went back in they had given me a tenth of the price they were reselling it for
I've never sold any books. What is the usual mark up?
posted by bystander at 12:17 PM on January 30, 2012


I'm not curious about mark up so much as: if a valuable book was found would you quietly pay a couple of dollars for it or would you say something and try to give a "fair" price on it? Or is this one of those depends on the person things?
posted by P.o.B. at 12:34 PM on January 30, 2012


I live in the same town as Miko, and we also have one tucked-away, musty bookshop (Sheafe Street) with an ornery man behind the desk and a fantastic fluffy grey cat with piercing eyes. Children are taking recorder lessons upstairs, by the sound of it.

My husband and I have yet to come to mutual agreement on a used bookstore: he goes for the poetry section (and is continually dismayed to find that in the U.S. there's always tons of Sylvia Plath and no Ted Hughes) and I, for the science fiction. Usually at least one is lacking.

I have never owned a bookstore - though I am a librarian and my grandfather & great grandfather sold antique books, in a shop, with a cat! - so I don't know, but I always imagined the discerning owner would frequent estate sales and the like to find the good stuff - for of COURSE I'm never giving away my Tolkien, dog-eared and water-damaged as it is!
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 12:38 PM on January 30, 2012


I realized later when I went back in they had given me a tenth of the price they were reselling it for
I've never sold any books. What is the usual mark up?


As a data point, the local used bookstore sells its books for about half cover price (adjust up or down for quality and rarity); gives store credit for books it buys at about half that (that is, about a quarter cover price); gives cash for books it buys at about half that (that is, a tenth to an eighth cover price).

For what it's worth, I always have more credit that I can spend there, and I buy a lot of books from them on accumulated credit. On the other hand is often some shaggy college dude with a couple boxes of battered paperbacks disappointed because he won't be able to live off the proceeds of his old books over summer break. ("But it's a first paperback edition, man!" I heard during one recent trip to that store.)
posted by aught at 2:03 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I once worked in an insanely gigantic old used bookstore in Duluth Minnesota called Carlson Book and Record. I could have built myself a house made of Dianetics bricks. That would have been a seriously lovely art project, except I suck at art.
posted by RedEmma at 3:45 PM on January 30, 2012


24. It is both true and sad that some people do in fact buy books based on the color of the binding.

When I worked at Borders we regularly had interior designers come in and buy "3 feet of red, hardcover books" or something similar. They often wanted nice, tall art books, so they'd spend $1000 or more. Crazy.
posted by coolguymichael at 3:56 PM on January 30, 2012


I'm not curious about mark up so much as: if a valuable book was found would you quietly pay a couple of dollars for it or would you say something and try to give a "fair" price on it? Or is this one of those depends on the person things?

I've done the opposite - I've alerted the bookseller to the fact they were practically giving away a valuable book.

They usually laughed and let me buy it anyway at the original price, but at least I didn't feel like a thief that way. Since the internet, though, most booksellers are very much aware of the price of their stock.
posted by winna at 4:53 PM on January 30, 2012


we regularly had interior designers come in and buy "3 feet of red, hardcover books"

OK, here's my favorite-ever books-as-decor story. Once I was on a business trip and went out to grab some dinner with a bunch of colleagues. The convenient pace to the hotel was a Pizzeria Uno, so that's where we went. It turned out that we had a pretty long wait for our food for some reason, and we were all hungry and testy and silly. We started making fun of the fakely-authentic decor that was around our table area, and noticed the bookshelf above our heads, a long shelf crammed with an appealing-looking set of faded vintage bindings, looking sort of turn-of-the-century. I stood up on the booth seat to pull down a book or two to pass the time with. When I placed my finger on top of a book to pull it out, the entire row of books came out with it. They were all glued together in one long unit.
posted by Miko at 4:54 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Miko: the entire row of books came out with it. They were all glued together in one long unit.

Half Price Books used to (still do, I'm sure) offer "books by the yard" just for this purpose. A great way to add a smart touch to any decor without ending up with multiple runs of Funk & Wagnalls or, worse, noticeable multitudes of Reader's Digest Condensed Books.
posted by sherman at 6:09 PM on January 30, 2012


I realized later when I went back in they had given me a tenth of the price they were reselling it for

Sorry, got distracted by the pet adoption thread, but yeah, that seems low (unless what you sold was fairly common, in iffy condition or a subject/author that's not in high demand, in which case I might see the store's argument). I've talked about this a lot in AskMe, and I think what I said a few years back still holds:

I'd estimate that if you go to an honest bookshop you'll be offered between 1/5 to 1/3 of what the owner expects to ask for it, depending on how much chance the owner thinks s/he has of selling the books to someone else. That's the tradeoff for asking a business with significant overhead to assume the risk that the books won't sell at all.

At our store, for paperbacks we usually offer 10% of the original cover price, which generally works out to 20-25% of what we'll sell it for -- e.g., on a $15 paperback we'd sell for $5 or $7.50, we pay $1.50 - $2. For rare or collectible books, our general rule is to offer 1/5 to 1/3 of what we think (emphasis on 'think', this is more art than science) we'll sell it for. So, for instance, someone brought in a 54-volume Great Books set the other day, in mostly good condition (we'll have to repair a number of volumes but the rest look decent), and we offered $30. We hope to sell it for $100, and know it won't sell fast, but if the repairs go well we'll probably shoot for $150 for the set.

So yeah, 1/10th seems kind of low to me. But you know, we make mistakes sometimes. And while our attitude is definitely NOT "all is fair when buying books," for every time I've run into our parking lot with a $10 bill in my hand, waving to the person to stop the car because I found another cool book in the box they dumped (yes, I'm serious; it's great for the store's reputation as well as being the right thing to do), there's another time where I underestimated the desirability of a book that ended up selling overnight for more than I initially guessed it would. We do the best we can.

Honestly, I'd rather make a deal where both parties are happy, like the one last week on a huge batch of boxes with tons of great Lovecraft and unusual horror, but also tons of stuff I was willing to take a chance on but suspected would ultimately end up on the dollar table. It's not easy to figure this out on the fly. But I was comfortable offering $800 for the lot, and he was overjoyed to get it. Great, right? But will it make you think less of me that I'm hoping there are at least a few really highly collectible items I was unaware of in some of those boxes? I mean, we need to make at least 3 grand, minimum, to make the buy worth our while. And if we end up making 5 or 6 grand as we sort through it all, would that make us bad people?

I'm sure you can guess my answer to that question. But we don't go into this looking to scam people - if you regularly make unfair offers, folks will go elsewhere, and we know that. But yeah, bottom line is 10% seems like a lowball offer. I'd look for another store next time.
posted by mediareport at 9:39 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, I should note that if you prefer store credit instead of cash, you can multiply all those offers above by 1.5.

"books by the yard" just for this purpose

Ha. We love the "book look" people - the realtors who just need to fill shelves to make that show home look lived in, or the folks who need books on the shelves for a drawing room scene in a local play. My favorite, though, are the cutely apologetic "Sorry, but I'm going to let elementary schoolkids cut these up" people and the "I'm gonna make a purse" people and the "These will make an awesome lampstand" people. I laugh and tell them that's great.
posted by mediareport at 9:59 PM on January 30, 2012


I'm not curious about mark up so much as: if a valuable book was found would you quietly pay a couple of dollars for it or would you say something and try to give a "fair" price on it? Or is this one of those depends on the person things?

Whoops, missed that follow-up. If someone brought in a book I knew was valuable I would not "quietly pay a couple of dollars for it." We tell them what it's worth, tell them we can offer about 1/3 of that in cash and they'd do better selling it themselves, and let them decie. Honestly, we do free appraisals all the time and are happy to help folks estimate the monetary value of a treasured book. There's no reason to change that when the "treasured book" comes in a batch with other stuff. Again, you have to take the long view: it's much better to be That Store that told me I had a first edition Flannery O'Connor than That Store that ripped me off on what I later found out was a first edition Flannery O'Connor.

Shit happens. Sometimes folks take our offer and we later find out one of their books was surprisingly valuable. Sometimes we pay a lot for something and it turns out to not be valuable at all. But we care about being fair, because not caring is suicide. You see, word-of-mouth is the shit. Golden. Better than any advertising, by fucking far. Do all stores do this? No. Do we do it 100% of the time? Not if you're a complete asshole from the start, I'll admit that. The Complete Asshole Tax can be heavy, for sure. But yeah, being honest about the value of books is not only our default, it's our raison d'être. We start fucking with that we might as well close our doors.
posted by mediareport at 5:36 AM on January 31, 2012


every time I've run into our parking lot with a $10 bill in my hand, waving to the person to stop the car because I found another cool book in the box they dumped (yes, I'm serious;

I don't doubt this. One of my nicest experience with this kind of thing was at the aforementioned Book Barn in Niantic, CT. I was moving away, and I had two books by Isaac Bashevis Singer which were both out of print and both autographed by the author, but which I didn't especially want. I knew they were worth more than your average used book, as I had checked it out online, but because I was moving I was more interested in rehoming them with someone who would appreciate them than trying to sell them online. I brought the books to the Book Barn in a big pile of others, pointed out the Singers, and the clerk tallied it all up and gave me, I dunno, $30 or something for six or so books. Then I went and browsed around.

When I passed the desk again on my way out of the building, she said "Oh! I was watching for you! I looked it up and those two Singer books are worth more than I thought. Here's another $20."

Very cool. She didn't have to do it as I accepted the initial price. I always thought that indicated real respect for the customers.
posted by Miko at 6:18 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Very cool. She didn't have to do it as I accepted the initial price.

As someone who's been buying from and selling to used book stores for over thirty years, I get the impression it's worth a smart bookseller's investment to encourage and reward the people who bring the best stuff in for their store.
posted by aught at 8:23 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thank you, mediareport!
posted by P.o.B. at 11:33 AM on January 31, 2012


There's a bookstore in San Antonio that has cats, I wonder if it's the same bookstore? This one used itself as a foster for several cats up for adoption, which you could adopt through the bookstore I guess. Although I'm all for anyone doing all they can to help homeless animals, you could smell the cat urine on some of the books.
posted by Malice at 11:11 AM on February 1, 2012


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