Sixteen Years as a Used Bookstore Owner

The bookstore was a parking lot for used graveyards. Thousands of graveyards were parked in rows like cars. Most of the books were out of print, and no one wanted to read them anymore and the people who had read the books had died or forgotten about them, but through the organic process of music the books had become virgins again. – Richard Brautigan, Trout Fishing in America

…a well-worn book also has its pleasures, the soft caress and give of the paper’s edges, the comfort, like an old shawl, of an oft-read story. – Lewis Buzbee, The Haunting of Charles Dicken

Here I am. Sitting in my overloaded bookstore. Loaded down with books. Boxes to empty, sort, clean, and price. Then shelve. Dust jackets to cover. But I need to take a break and contemplate the years. This experience. The experience of being a used bookstore owner.

I feel so lucky. Lucky to decide to purchase the store and bring new life to it. Lucky to open the door each day, turn on lights, sweep floors, polish windows, dust off books. Decorating windows, tops of bookcases, shuffling shelves around. Selecting background music. Creating an atmosphere of coziness. Somewhat organized. Somewhat not. Cluttered. But hopefully not too much.

We are much more likely to be drawn to a messy bookstore than a neat one because the mess signifies vitality. Clutter — orderly clutter, if possible — is what we expect. – Lewis Buzbee, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop

Owning a used bookstore is everything you think it would be. Should be. But it’s so much more. There is the realization that all the books actually belong to you. To you! You can claim each and every book if you want. But, of course, you don’t because how are you going to keep the store going? So, you have to be able to let go. And know that a sold book is going to a good home. To be reread. Or even sit prettily on a bookshelf.

It is clear that the books owned the shop rather than the other way about. Everywhere they had run wild and taken possession of their habitat, breeding and multiplying, and clearly lacking any strong hand to keep them down. – Agatha Christie, The Clocks

The first weekend owning the store, I cleaned the top floor: sweeping, tearing apart bookcases, freeing the sunbaked books. I wanted to make an impression on other Main Street businesses to let them know there was a new owner. This happened in the original location. The building was demolished a number of years ago for the work on the railroad tracks and tunnel. There is a small park and labyrinth in the location now.

I started using a child’s vintage paint easel boasting a literary quote to help draw people in. Placed on the large patio in front of the store. Over a span of time, I painted, rearranged, removed bookcases to create room and have a clean front and back entrance for air flow. I even went so far as to feng shui the store. Twice. The first experience called for ringing bells. I thought my bell was broken as not a sound was made. But the second time around, I started to hear it. The third time it was ringing quite clearly. Isn’t that interesting! And yea, there were ghosts there. Believe what you want.

One day pulling up to the Main Street building I noted people with clipboards in front of the store. Looked like a meeting of VTrans, and VT Railway representatives. I knew a few from various meetings I attended while working at the Addison County Chamber of Commerce. They gave me the word. The situation was dire, and maybe I should be looking at another location. I wanted to be established before the work began and I’m so glad I did. When I walked through my current location for the first time, I knew this was the perfect place to move the store to. It’s not Main Street but there is parking. No stairs. Huge windows. And a great MW community.

The Big Yellow Room before it became a used bookstore!

One must remember it is pretty much me in the store but throughout the years I have had short-term helpers: Wilder, Roy, Helen, Jennifer, Nellie, Carrie, Henry, Beckett, and, of course, Hannah. Their assistance has been enthusiastic and valued by me. I greatly appreciated their help and input. There’s a dedicated James Joyce section thanks to Helen. Remember when Jennifer organized cookbooks by their colored spines? Carrie, so instrumental in running the shop while I was having leg issues and then hip replacement. She held the store together.

The customers have been the best. So many have become friends. Stopping in to check on me. Bring me tokens, smiles, jokes, food to books. To just talk or to check on what’s new on shelves. Catching up on families. Books read. Books to read. Just being friends. Even buying books!

My style of running the used bookstore is based on what I would have liked to have found in NYC along Book Row. I read the book, Book Row: An Anecdotal and Pictorial History of the Antiquarian Book Trade by Marvin Mondlin and Roy Meador. Books were everything to the owners or managers of the spaces they held. Customers would walk into one of the shops and wonder what they’d find. That’s what I want here. I had a desire to stand out from other shops. Everyone’s online because they feel they have to. Would I be brave enough to go against the norm? Almost. I posted about three hundred or so books, but it was because I felt I had to. Not because I wanted to. Sure, I’ve had online sales but what’s the connection to the buyer? I could post a note to them. Include a Vermont postcard. Wrap the book in brown paper and tie it up with string or ribbon. Sometimes I added a small piece of embroidery and taped it to the wrapped book.

It was a very odd concept – that you could become friends with someone simply by examining their bookshelves – but nevertheless, Zoe believed it fervently. – Jenny Colgan, The Bookshop on the Shore.

I don’t know what the future will hold for me or the bookstore, but I anticipate many more years gracing the MarbleWorks community. And when the time is right another soul will venture to keep the store alive because books are here to stay. And will always be in style.

Thank you all for indulging me to live the life of a used bookstore lady. A life I had no idea I needed to be but here I am sixteen years later.

I took my time, running my fingers along the spines of books, stopping to pull a title from the shelf and inspect it. A sense of well-being flowed through me as I circled the ground floor. It was better than meditation or a new pair of shoes- or even chocolate. My life was a disaster, but there were still books. Lots and lots of books. A refuge. A solace. Each one offering the possibility of a new beginning. – Beth Pattillo, Jane Austen Ruined My Life


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