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

And Now Here is April

businesscards_ashtrayGreat news! I now have the ability to sell gift cards through Square on the OCUB Facebook page. Check it out, if so inclined.

Honestly, it has been quite a time for me and the store. I ended 2019 on a strong note with January and February equally strong. I was in the process of readdressing my marketing plan to prepare for an uncertain summer due to the upcoming Main Street construction. I took my books offline to reevaluate what I was offering. I purchased several collections to recharge the shelves. And then BAM! everything was turned upside down and I feel like I got caught unprepared for what was to come.  Fortunately I know I wasn’t alone but I have to come up with another plan.

You see, when I purchased the store I had to turn everything around – the physical space, the inventory, the reputation. It was a process that, at the time, was exciting because I knew there was only one direction to go in and that was up. I worked an extra year at my employment to carry the lack of business that store was experiencing. Then I took a huge leap of faith to leave that job and devote my time fully to the store. It took five years but I got there. The store became financially sound. Then I had to look at the future of the location the store was in. I knew from my previous employment that the building was going to eventually come down. And I knew the condition of the train overpass next to the store was in a bad way. The state could condemn it at anytime and that would obviously affect my business. So I decided to be proactive and started contacting landlords of spaces currently available in town. That led me to here, the historic MarbleWorks. That also meant I had to once again put my nose to the grindstone and work to get my business back. I almost didn’t make it but I did. So that was twice I had to turn the business around. 

Now I am faced with the very possibility of turning the store around for the third time. Frankly, I don’t know if I have it within me. When we were told to close I stayed away for a few days. Then I would come in to check the mail and the answering machine but I would leave because I just couldn’t deal with whatever was going on with the world. Here it is April 7 and I’m trying my best to address things I’ve wanted to do but couldn’t seem to get to it – change displays, go through shelves with a better eye and weed, clean, and other used bookstore chores. I’m trying to not be discouraged. All I can say is that once we are given the okay to reopen I will have one hell of a sale to try to keep the store going. But honestly, I am going be realistic.

For now, I wish all well. I look forward to reconnecting with everyone real soon.

“To wish to be well is a part of becoming well.” – Seneca

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“Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams?” – Lord Alfred Tennyson

And now it’s March!

2020vaba_fair“Time passes. That’s the rule. No matter what happens, no matter how much it might feel like everything in your life has been frozen around one particular moment, time marches on.” – Cynthia Hand, The Last Time We Say Goodbye

In this case it was February. And now it’s March.  A big sigh of relief. Thanks to all who stopped by to check out the I Hate February Sale. It proved once a gain to be a lot of fun.

March brings changes to the store. Hannah will now only work Mondays and every other Saturday. She has taken a position at Oxford Company in Cornwall. I’ll miss her and our routine but I’m very happy for her. She’ll now be surrounded with art and the ability to put her college degree to good work. I’ll be in the store Tuesday-Friday with every other Saturday off. Monday’s I still have charge of my grandsons.

Also March presents me with some down time. I’ll be getting away the week of March 23-27. The ocean calls me. Fried clams and the most delicious clam linguine on the planet. I’ve already started my pile of books to bring. Have my coffee houses picked out to put my feet up in and hunker down with a juicy novel. And Thursday evening of that week, author Erik Larson will be speaking of his new release, “The Splendid and the Vile”. Very excited to hear him and to dig into the book as I’m currently reading, “In the Garden of Beasts”.

On the last Sunday of March the Vermont Book, Posters & Ephemera Fair will be held in Burlington at the Hilton Burlington on Battery Street. This fair is sponsored by the Vermont Antiquarian Booksellers Association (VABA) and is the 27th annual. The hours are 10-4 and it is free! I will be there this year as well as many of my used bookstore friends and mentors. For nothing else, it will be great to hang out with them. And to check out their tables and shelves. It’s always a great time!

One more March thing. Look for some store happenings on the 13th. I have owned OCUB for thirteen years and the on the 13th of each month I will host some kind of surprise. Or a sale. Maybe even both! Watch for an announcement on Facebook.

“My father was often impatient during March, waiting for winter to end, the cold to ease, the sun to reappear. March was an unpredictable month, when it was never clear what might happen. Warm days raised hopes until ice and grey skies shut over the town again.” – Tracy Chevalier, Girl with a Pearl Earring

 
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Here it is again…February!

photo(4)I hate this feeling. Like I’m here, but I’m not. Like someone cares. But they don’t. Like I belong somewhere else, anywhere but here, and escape lies just past that snowy window, cool and crisp as the February air. – Ellen Hopkins, Crank

I am not a graceful person. I am not a Sunday morning or a Friday sunset. I am a Tuesday 2 a.m., gunshots muffled by a few city blocks, I am a broken window during February.  – Anna Peters

Seriously, February is the worse month of the year for me. Years ago, one day sitting in the store and just tired of grumbling, I decided I had to turn my mood around. One of my sale_sign_booksused bookstore heroes had told me that having a sale was a fun thing to do. For him and his customers. And when he has a sale he goes big. All books are half off. 50% off every book. So I thought, hey, if it works for Ben (The Country Bookshop in Plainfield, VT) then try it. And that’s how the I Hate February Sale began. 

I’m armed with chocolate and flowers. And a sale. February just got better.

February is pitiless, and it is boring. That parade of red numerals on its page adds up to zero: birthdays of politicians, a holiday reserved for rodents, what kind of celebrations are those? The only bubble in the flat champagne of February is Valentine’s Day. It was no accident that our ancestors pinned Valentine’s Day on February’s shirt: he or she lucky enough to have a lover in frigid, antsy February has cause for celebration, indeed. – Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

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Goodbye 2019. Hello 2020.

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“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”
T.S. Eliot,  Four Quartets

I’m getting ready to close out the year, 2019 and I have to catch my breath. December is closing out strong. One of the strongest Decembers since I’ve moved the store into the Historic MarbleWorks. My heart is singing from the support that has come from all the customers who have found their way ‘down here’ off of Main Street. Thank you one and all!

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“I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Thirteen. 13. The number after 12 and before 14. (thur’teen,)

13Can you believe it? I’ve owned OCUB for thirteen years! 13! Wow!

Books have always played a part of my life: reading the Book of the Month delivered to our house. I learned of John Steinbeck and a host of other authors. After I read the BOM book I would go to the library and find other titles by the featured authors.  Also Reader’s Digest.  When I went to college and took the class, Children’s Literature, I was stunned by the books I hadn’t read: Wind in the Willows, A Secret Garden were two that really struck me as not knowing how they could have slipped by me. But I had read Caddie Woodlawn, Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates, and Little Men, so I wasn’t totally deprived. I read Little Women but Little Men was by far my favorite between the two. In Junior High I was introduced to, Anne of Green Gables, and my world stopped. Here was someone just like me! And all the horse books I could lay my hand on. Misty of Chincoteague, was my favorite.

Reading was escape. Learning of new places. Meeting new people. Libraries were my favorite places. I loved checking out a pile of books and walking them home or balancing them on the handlebars of my bike.

Owing a used bookstore is an amazing experience. I am never alone. I’m surrounded by color, titles, words, smells. It is everything you think it would be and then some. Actually so much more but words fail me. And the customers, how can they not be my friends? Most are.

So! Friday and Saturday I will celebrate this great occasion with a 50% sale! As my hero, Ben from Country Bookshop in Plainfield, VT (check the store out!) says, when you have a sale, go big! Make everyone happy! So I take his advice every time with a 50% storewide sale.  Stop in!

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“I love the way that each book—any book—is its own journey. You open it, and off you go….” – Sharon Creech

 

Fall: An Otterly Fav Time of Year

ocub_sunflowers“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” – Albert Camus

Autumn. It’s here, As sorry as I am that summer is behind us I am looking forward to the fall.  The crispness in the air, apples, changing leaves, wood stove warming my house, pile of books and embroidery projects, grabbing old quilts and draping over chairs….all of it. Until February hits and then it is a different story but that’s for later.

I’m actually raising my head here from behind all the boxes and bags that have come into the store. It was a very busy summer! Books stored at my house are slowly making their way in.

A couple of weeks ago a customer told me why he likes coming in to OCUB. He appreciates that I don’t list a lot of books online. My store, to him, is like an old fashioned used bookstore. To see what I have you have to come into the store. Everything is out. No backroom to hide books in.  No rules. Looking through boxes is perfectly fine. Poke around. Relax in a chair. Take your time. I am happy with his description. 

I accept the store as it is. I’d like it different but frankly, it is just Hannah and I and we are hardly in the store at the same time. So we do as we can. And I’m finally okay with that. Hey! It’s a used bookstore. And there are no rules in this used bookstore other than to enjoy.

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Signs Leading to Summer Reading

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“You must understand that there is more than one path to the top of the mountain” – Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy.

Or to a used bookstore. More specifically, Otter Creek Used Books. OCUB.

This post is actually in response to a customer who had never been to the store before who stated there is no signage to get people to OCUB. She was very frustrated and well, wasn’t being nice about it. My response (stated in my head),  there are signs. And Google Maps. And a good used book hunter knows it’s all about the hunt. Such is finding a used bookstore. Customers are always (not) right. But customers are to always (always!) be respected.

It can be intimidating to get around in the MarbleWorks. People do tend to get turned around and think they know where something is only to discover it isn’t where they thought. Businesses look out for one another and assist those wanderers.

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Above is one of several signposts found within the grounds of the MarbleWorks.

The windows as seen below have been boarded up and now used as blackboards. They have become signage for OCUB.

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And outside of Noonies Deli hangs a poster promoting the store with map in the MW post office window space.

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“What’s meant to be will always find a way” – Trisha Yearwood.

Including finding your way to OCUB.