Time Marches on. Change is Good.

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Front entrance to Otter Creek Used Books in the Lazarus Building

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The Vermont section

I want to pay tribute to 20 Main Street – The Lazarus Building – previous home to Otter Creek Used Books. The building will be coming down this weekend. I feel bad that I’m not sad about it. Probably because I remember how I felt being down in the basement day after day. I brought life into it with paint, rearranged bookcases to even removing some for air circulation and light flow. What there was of the light. I was proud of what I brought into it but I have to admit there was only so much I could do. Do I even mention all the air fresheners that were sprinkled around the rooms? Crazy when we moved how many we found.

It was a good space though. I made the most of it. And it was filled with used books! So that accounts for some good vibes. I loved the front window and all of the light and warmth it provided. I like how through Jessica and her professional decorating skills new life was brought into the front upstairs room. The blue tiled floor, the yellow walls. Over-sized letters announcing BOOKS down the stairs. The wrought iron railing. Piling books on the stairs. And when you ventured down them the layout of bookshelves and all the dissplays on top. It had character. The stepping into the back room where more books were discovered. I enjoyed hearing first time customers oohing and ahhing about the ‘hidden room’. And the access to the back of the store where I could – and did a number of times – run out to pick up my order from Noonies in between customers.

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The back room

When it would get quiet in the store I would listen to customers above me walking around Green Mountain Shoe & Apparel. Loved it when children were trying on new boots! Clomp, clomp, clomp!

There were a lot of good things about the space. As much as there was good there were that many of bad and ickyness. But that’s not for now. Now is a time to celebrate all that the building was and represented.

Stan Lazarus was a nice man. With a great smile and sense of humor. He was a giving man who gave back to his community. I shopped at Lazarus for my shoes, jeans, raincoats and more. I remember many occasions of checking out what they had to offer from elementary through college years. I know the building stands as a symbol of yesterdays to many people. When I made the decision to move the store – in anticipation of the work on the train tracks – I heard from many people their concerns of how the move would affect the life of the building. I agreed but I also knew it was time to move on including my business. Unfortunately the owners never kept up with modernizing the building as they should.

The front desk

The front desk

The space was good to me and my business. Now is the time to celebrate it. I was able to buy a failed business and through my limited funding allow the business to grow. The owners of the building were very supportive of my efforts and to that I’m grateful and appreciative. They understood my goals and how I was going to get there.

Time moves on and there is no stopping it. And I’m not going to try to. I’ve always been one to look at my options and make a decision based on what I’m seeing and what I’m anticipating. Knowing the train tracks and overpass were being addressed and how that would affect my business, the issues of the space and how my daily attitude was starting to change. I’m happy I did as I love this space here in the Marble Works. The positives are overwhelming here. I miss Main Street but that is the only thing I miss. Okay, and the big window. Thank you Stan and the Trustees of the Lazarus Estate for your support and encouragement. Time marches on and I feel good about it.

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Mat Hall with the sign he designed and painted. It was to encourage drivers to slow down as they rounded the corner. Children would stop to talk to Ollie the Otter.

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Always fun to decorate the window. This window was celebrating Books

 

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Sales could be found on the patio as well as on the first floor.

 

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Helen was a helper. Here she is singing songs she adapted from the poetry of James Joyce

 

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Goodbye old friend!

 

“It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.” -Paulo Coelho, The Zahir 

I’m a Used Bookstore Nerd – Shakespeare & Co.

Before I get into that I want to report that I had so much fun at the Sustainable Living Expo 2014 held Mar 29. A few people came up to the booth asking why there was a library at the Expo. My response, “mmmm….well, I represent my store, Otter Creek Used Books, and selling a sampling of our books.” Sales were great.

So being a used bookstore nerd…

Paris1931Those who know me, know my infatuation with Shakespeare & Co. I ‘connected’ with Sylvia Beach when I read about her life as a bookseller in Paris. Her story was one of persistence, courage, and skill. What a thrill to have been in Paris during her time. Not so much during the Nazi takeover but for the authors that frequented her shop. The books, the conversations… I know it was hard work for her. In my simple life I get how much busier she had to be to maintain the store’s existence and her quest to helping out struggling writers.

I have a customer who has become a good friend and a great supporter of my efforts here. He’s always coming in with ideas to help increase exposure, customers and sales. He gets the business. Used bookstores and retail. Some ideas are helpful. Some are good intentions. Some I wish I had the money at hand to take on. I take them all seriously and mull them over to see if they are viable for me. (Which comes down to no costs.) His latest was an easy one. Paris In May. Celebrating all that is French during May. Still working out ideas but one that I said I could easily do was contact Shakespeare & Company. Of course I had no idea what I’d write about or what I was asking for or  expecting. But writing was easy. Until I sat down at my computer to type out an email. But I wrote I wasn’t sure what I was asking or thinking of but was hoping for some sort of connection. I guess. And to serve as an intro to Bill and his friend who will be heading over to Paris soon. Including hoping he’d buy something and bring back a receipt.  (Of course he has to now.)  So I clicked “send” and off went the email. Really not expecting much. But lo and behold! a few days later I got a response.

Here I am this small used bookstore. A pin dot in the map of the world. Receiving a return email from THE used bookstore in the world – to me, that is. They read my blog. Those who know me know that I get uncomfortable when people tell me they read this but when I read their email I was excited and honored. They admired my perseverance and devotion to books. And I touched them all. They wrote that! They mentioned my move and the photos of the space here in the Marble Works and that we (as booksellers) and books need light and how it looks so warm and welcoming.  Then they wrote about not waiting for Bill to bring me back something but was sending me a parcel. And they did. Here is what I received:

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George Whitman must have been an amazing bookseller. Definitely. He picked up where Sylvia Beach had left off. His visiting authors were Lawrence Durrell! Styron, Henry Miller, Saroyan, James Baldwin! Oh my, his list is just as long as impressive. I’ve been devouring the book photos and pulling out ideas to try out in the store: Mirror of Love, for instance, and a writer’s nook but of course, more reflective of this store. Pity the next customer who buys Dostoevky’s The Idiot! 🙂

His daughter, Sylvia is now taking over the store. And yes, she is named after THE Sylvia. And is currently working on the history of the store as well as managing the store in her father’s absence. And she is gaining in fame with her impressive list of modern authors.

“Heaven is a place with books and cherry trees,” was their last sentence in their email response to me. Doesn’t that just conjure a beautiful image? I don’t have a cherry tree – yet – but I’m working on one in my fashion that will be ready for May.

“Books are works of the imagination, aren’t they? So, a bookshop should reflect the imagination,” George Whitman (1913-2011), Shakespeare & Co, Paris.

That is my motivator.

 

Otterly Rambles

ocub_blocksSo much for New Year resolutions! That’s all I’m going to say about that. The year has so far been very good to the store. I’ve been busy with SPS – sorting, pricing, shelving. That is what my time has been taken up with. No complaints here!

In between all my store busyness, I’ve also been thinking of what to write about. Have I covered all there is about owning a used bookstore? No. But I don’t want to nag about stuff. I don’t want to complain about things. I want to be positive and let go some of the weirdness. Some things are just not meant to be written about. Like what? Like how I sweep the floor every day, mop as needed – careful around the books piled on the floor. I like the vision of walking into the store and noticing a clean floor in the Big Yellow Room. The light reflecting in through the windows. It gives a cozy feel between the bookcases. To not forget to water the plants. That kind of stuff. Also rearranging shelves displaying books and nicknacks. To make it interesting to regular customers always looking for what’s new.

I’ve also given myself permission to read during open store hours. What??? Seriously that was hard to do. I always felt I had to appear busy doing something. I have no idea why. Maybe I just don’t want people to think I sit around all day. Well, I’m not sitting all the time. My in-the-store book I’m reading is George Orwell’s,  Keep the Aspidistra Flying. More on the book later.

Currently I’ve been working on a literary tour of Addison County, Vermont. I did two guides while employed at the Addison County Chamber of Commerce – Mid Vermont Heritage Guide. Working on a take-off of them. It’s a lot of research and a lotta fun.  Check it out. There is a link of the beginning stage at the top of the page. It is a work in progress.  A lot of info is missing including links but they’ll be coming. And photos. Let me know what you think and what needs to be added. Suggestions are encouraged. Part of the process.

Thanks!

Downside of a Used Bookstore. But the Only One.

used booksI know I’m always saying to customers that owning a used bookstore is everything you’d think it would be but only better. That’s the truth. It is awesome. You can make it anything you want it to be – highly organized to total chaos  – and get away with it because it’s a used bookstore. No rules. Fabulous.

Okay, to come clean, there is a downside of owning a used bookstore. At least to me. What?  It’s buying books. I receive calls daily asking if I’m buying.  People stopping in…and that’s where it gets awkward. Now remember this is strictly for me. It may not be true for other used bookstore owners.

When I purchased the store I bought books from everyone thinking I was beginning a relationship with potential customers. It took me a bit to realize that I generally didn’t see those people ever again.  Lesson learned. So I stopped buying unless I knew the customer, knew they were local or had books which could/would sell in the store. It was a hard lesson and an expensive one in the long run but at the time, I thought it was important.

Now I am, well, most of the time, savvy. At least more so.   If boxes come in that are nasty I really don’t want to open them up to see what’s inside. Some boxes have been just grossness. I don’t like end-of-yard-sales boxes generally either. I’ve learned  people can relieve their conscience by dropping off boxes here than at ACSWD (Addison County Solid Waste District). I won’t even write about the boxes that were full of spiders. Oops, I did. Well, now you know!

The hard part of buying books is quoting a buying price. I don’t like that position at all. Books are subjective. I get it. But many don’t. Yes, your books may be special but sometimes they are generally only special to you. I don’t want to come off snobby here. But facts are facts. And while I’m at it, if it is an old book it doesn’t necessarily make it special either.  As like today, there were crappy books written ages ago. Oh, and number of boxes does not equate a larger pay out. It is not quantity but quality of the books. Repeating: it is not quantity but quality that makes the difference. And while I’m on that subject, the cleaner the books the more money I’m apt to give. I take into consideration of the condition of the book while determining price. And spiders get reduction in price!

When I purchase books I take into account a guesstimate of how long it might sit on the shelf. And how much money I have in my coffers. Also, will I ever see the seller again. By that I mean, is the seller also a buyer? Hint: buyers keep the store alive.

…sigh…

Good! I’ve gotten that out of my system! Now I can move on to another topic. I’ve been sitting on this draft for weeks and weeks. Trying to keep it whimsical, positive. Not sure if it is but time to post and move on.

 

The Rumpus Continues for Two More Days!

08022013_saleAs the chalkboard sign indicates there is a 50% sale going on for all books. I call it a secret sale. In other words, you have to be walking in or by to note the sale as well as see the sign greeting you when you walk into the store.  An appreciation sale for customers and to help move around inventory and, of course, to encourage new  customers. The sale, which started on Monday, has been going very well. Fun to surprise customers especially the regulars.

Tomorrow should be fun with the Middlebury Farmers Market on this side of the Marble Works, the North Marble parking lot. It’s moving so the other side, the Riverfront Park, can  get needed improvements. The Farmers Market will continue on this side for the rest of the season. I’m already planning on my lunch – Thai  food – picking up veggies, and a Saturday favorite, chocolate croissant. How easy it will be to run out in between customers to make a purchase or two. Of course I’m more excited about the potential to reach more customers who otherwise might not even know this store exists because they only stay on that side of Marble Works. But have you tried the Thai food? Wouldn’t it be fun to sit on the marble block (see above), enjoying a good read (a used book, of course!), and chowing down on some good food?

 

 

What Happens in a Used Book Store When It’s Quiet?

So, wouldn’t you like to know? Actually, believe it or not, I get asked that a lot. “So you probably just sit and read all day. What a job you have.” Actually no. It really is hard work. But then again it is a used bookstore so, seriously, the work isn’t all that hard. Or that bad. But it is still work. There is always books to shelve. Always. Keeping fiction in order and filling in the holes of purchased titles. Sweeping. Dusting. Slipping in reading or at least skimming a few pages.

But what happens on the days when, well, customers are far between? Say on a snowy day that no one in their right mind would be on any road except for a used bookstore owner and the postal worker? And why do we always seem to make it in? Why don’t we stay home like sane people do? Because we don’t want to disappoint customers. Those that need to have something fresh to read. To curl up on a sofa with a fresh pot of tea or a cup of steaming coffee. We don’t like to disappoint them. So we trod in and open the doors, sweep off the sidewalk, turn on the lights and sit and wait. Even if no one will show at the door at least we were open in case we were needed.

I’ve always wondered what other used bookstore owners did on those quiet days. Me? I generally do the same as always except every hour I go outside and sweep off the sidewalk leading to my door. Wander the shelves to tuck in books, re-alphabetize as needed and think that I should be reorganizing Religion and finish Cookbooks, and Gardening but well, I don’t. I’ll save it for another day. Dusting? Do used bookstore owners really dust? Doesn’t that hurt the ambiance? Just a thought. And then the mighty question, now what do I read? That took a bit until I finally settled on P.G. Wodehouse’s, Jeeves Omnibus. But then there is also Kipling and what about…ugh! That is a perfect dilemma for a used bookstore owner – settling on what next to read.

Today being a wintry day with more snow on the way tonight I posed a question to my fellow booksellers in Vermont, “Hey, what are you doing to entertain yourself on this quiet, snowy day?” Of course, I made it sound that I was quite busy – out straight – because I don’t want them to know I’m having a slow day. Kidding. I told them. I’ve had three customers so far and hoping that no one is taking pity on me because the snow has brought out tons of customers for them! Actually we are all very supportive to one another. Yes, for real. No real competition amongst us. Unless, of course, at a library sale but that’s for another story.

As I mentioned, I emailed the VABA (Vermont Antiquarian Bookseller Association) group and here is the response I received: “Right now I am busy preparing the brochure for the book fair, but I have done any and all of those things on a slow day.  The cleaning is usually the last thing, though.  Slow days are also usually when I can’t ignore the bookkeeping any more, and write up sales, etc. Tea is always much more appealing, sometimes while reading the local paper, and takes up far too much of the day,” from one seller up north.

Here’s someone just down the road from me, “Well, I’ve been repairing and cleaning some books. Starting to pack for the book fair. Dealing with several small chores that needed to get done but kept putting off. Checking facebook, checking email, and watching videos on YouTube. It’s 4 pm, and I actually have two people in the shop but they spending most of their time petting the cat! Not snowing here right now. Less than an hour to closing.”

And from some unknown part of Vermont (;-)) I received this response: “Yep!  It has been snowing here all day….winter getting in the last licks.  Did not go to the store today…schools closed, road only plowed once and the plow just went up the hill for the second time today.  So, I worked on my taxes…always a wonderful thing to do on a snowy day…and I have a little less hair and fewer dollars in my pocket after the government takes it’s cut.  I wonder if we could qualify for some of those government grants and handouts for historic preservation on Antiquarian Book Stores or something along that line…maybe even for being mentally deranged in working for little or nothing??? Thanks for the break in the boring work of doing tax forms, where completion of one form requires another form to complete the form of another form so you can do the form you started on, and those wonderful people in the Washington, DC area that work on paperwork reduction!!!!!! Best, Name withheld to protect the guilty party.

See we always keep ourselves busy even if we can’t make it into the store. But he would have if he could have I bet!

Oh! Time for me to turn out the lights and head home. Grab my book – ok, books – to read tonight and get ready to repeat for tomorrow. But hopefully busier.

Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes Under Glass

Great A, little a,
Bouncing B;
The cat’s in the cupboard,
And she can’t see.

I thought I would feature these nursery book pages that are hanging around the store.

The book came in with a moldy cover but fortunately the pages were still okay. Phew! I rescued them and have some posted around the store as well as two pages framed. What is interesting about the frames is that they are reversible! What?! Yes, each page features a rhyme on each side so how could one side be covered up? If you get tired of one side just flip the frame to the other side and admire the other rhyme for a while.

Here is an example of the front of the frame:

And here is the back of the frame which is also under glass:

How clever, huh? Framing was done by Nancy of Artemis Framing, who also is the Marble Works gardener. The pages are sold separately or if interested, Nancy can mount and frame for you. Nancy is so talented!

Stop in and check them out.

Busy Day Here In the Used Book Store

A quiet moment…been busy today. I’m learning about the new program I have for buying back textbooks. Yes, I buy used textbooks. It probably undignifies me in the glamorous world of antiquarian books but it helps me out through my slow months of April, May, and June. Once the weather starts warming after chilly winters Vermonters go outdoors and get their gardens ready, head up to Church Street (in Burlington) to people watch, or take to the hiking trails, go fishing. Anything to be outside and enjoy the warmer weather. Those months who feels like reading? Well, me but if I could I would also be outside. And it also helps to bring in college students to check out the store.

I didn’t mean to leave my last post up so long. I actually forgot about it. (yea, right!) Every day since I posted it I had the intention to change it but the store got busy. Today I had a conversation with a customer who mentioned the post which reminded me I had to change it. As soon as I had a moment. Here’s my moment. Late in the afternoon.

As I mentioned earlier it’s been about buying back textbooks today. I’m working with a new company as the previous was recently sold to Penntext.com. Their site is up but it’s going through revision. Should be live soon. Then one can type in an ISBN number and purchase textbooks online.  Lauren, the Remote Buyback Coordinator, was in the store for a meet and greet, and go over everything. We were even able to help a mother looking for her son’s  college books. Remember when you or your college kids are finished with the books bring them in and I’ll buy them back from you.  Cash on the spot. Actually a check but the bank is just a bit away. Then I’ll ship them to Lauren. Well, actually the company in PA.

Today I’ve also been trying to figure out a way to reconfigure the ‘front room’. Where the cash register is. I need a bigger table/counter. I think I’m going to take a door we have in  in our garage and make it into a countertop. I like that idea but now I’ve got to come up with an idea of what to lay the door on. Could make bookshelves from other doors. Oh, Rusty! What cha doing? Nothing? Oh, have I got a project for you!

Sorry for no photos. I can’t get my new laptop to recognize my cellphone. That’ll be tomorrow’s project.

Saving Bookstores – Including Used

I caught on FB a recent item from The Huffington Post regarding saving indie bookstores. My interest was aroused so I clicked  on the article and was immediately taken to their website and the article, “How To Save Bookstores: 28 Ideas From Existing Locations.” Obviously I’m not an indie bookstore but I thought I might be able to pull some ideas off the site and the associated blog.

Here is what I’m currently doing from the list: 2. Beautiful space. Love the space here! I have a ways to go before I’m there in terms of my design but I love it here. Want more bookshelves, labels, etc. 7. Show what good value print can be. Hey! this is a used bookstore. Ok, some books are priced high but generally those are generally out-of-print, short run, etc. Most are priced respectfully. Priced to sell. 10. Don’t ban cell phones. No rules here so no problem. I’ll even make a sale while you are talking on it. Even when you’re listening to music and don’t remove your ear pods. A sell is a sell. And again, no rules. And yes, I’ve have. I don’t judge. 12. Establish an ongoing relationship with well-known local creatives. My store is part of the Middlebury Arts Walk and I’m always trying to come up with creative ways to express art. Here at the store and me personally. It doesn’t always have to be oil or watercolor. For example for this month’s Arts Walk it was about poetry. 13. Curate a themed noticeboard. How about themed shelves? I’ve got amazing shelves in this space and I’m always trying to change them out into themes. Currently one is on red covered vintage books. Just for fun. 19. Pool resources – other bookstores. The statewide used booksellers who have regular open hours have been getting together and talking about developing a driving tour of our open stores. I would like to do something with The Vermont Book Shop but I’m too chicken to ask. I don’t know why. Maybe because I haven’t come up with a good idea yet.  27. Make your staff a feature of the store. Been doing that specially over the last four months. My grandson comes in and helps out.  He’s a huge help for being 5 1/2 months old. And so cute! That’s probably not what they mean. 28. Sell online. Check. I do that but not at the level expected. For a one-woman shop it’s fine for me. And I want you in here. To experience the book. Eight out of 28 – not too bad.

Some on the list that I don’t do and frankly not appropriate for me are: 5. Offer more than coffee. Well, I don’t offer coffee in the first place. Or tea. I do partner with Stoneleaf Tea House also in here in the Marble Works. Buy a book, show your receipt, and you’ll receive 10% off a pot of tea. Great deal. 8. Sell old books alongside new ones. New books can be found at Vermont Book Shop so I would suggest going there. We have a great relationship referring to each other.  I won’t sell new. Hopefully they won’t sell used. 15. Keychains. Well, that is a good idea but honestly, since I moved my business I’m struggling to get my business back to what it was before I moved it a year ago. But I’ll tell you, when you see keychains here you’ll know I got it back and I have a firm financial standing. I do have pens though. 16. Make a nonprofit. Wait a minute. You mean it’s not? Actually I want to make a profit. A paycheck, no matter how small, would be appreciated. 21. Sell other, high-quality book-themed products. See #8 above. 22-24. Publish, print and encourage self-publishing.   I encourage you to publish. And I wish you success. And I’ll look forward to the books eventually coming in here.  Hey why not? Keep the cycle going…