Sitting in my rearranged front room sipping some ice tea (Oolong) from Stoneleaf Tea House, my courtyard neighbor and settling myself down to write. It’s been awhile since I’ve added anything. I’ll post pictures soon of the new room arrangement. I’m liking it better.
Life’s been good. Had a ton of boxes come in so I’ve been busy going through them and getting them on the shelves. I’m currently offering store credit for now. April and May are generally slow months here and this year I have to say, it’s no different even in this location. My sales haven’t been too far off from when I was located on Main Street but enough to make me curb spending and doing some fancy bookwork juggling. Looking forward to the summer months and the outdoors Farmers Market returning to the area.
So what’s been coming in? A lot of gardening, herbal, homesteading, beekeeping, philosophy, and fiction – hardcover and soft. And vegetarian cookbooks. Oh and a signed John Denver. I was excited to see that. He was one of my heroes. Now know that I’m excited about seeing his signature. Yes, I put a value on the book and posted it on Abebooks where I sell online but that’s the business side of the store. I work mostly on the emotional side of books and the store, in general. I guess that’s why I have such a time adding books online. It’s so impersonal. I’d have to completely revamp my store life in order to accommodate selling online. I recognize in today’s market that is what I should be doing. Am I wrong for being a throw-back to running a used bookstore? Being in-store customer based? Possibly. I admit it but then I gotta be me, right?
Otter Creek Used Books booth
I did it! My thoughts and plans came together and above shows my booth at the recent VT Antiquarian Book & Ephemera Fair – the Spring show – over the past weekend – Sunday, March 25 – in Burlington.
I admit that I fretted about the booth – design to picking out books – and I feel I did an okay job. I liked how the booth came out and I think I picked out a range of books that highlights my store. I did some sales which relieved me because I just didn’t want to face a day of no sales. I got to talk to people as they poked around my books and other exhibitors which was the best part as well as to see what they brought (And their pricing, too. I was excited because I felt I was pretty on target with mine). SO, all my struggles paid off and I made it through and gained confidence. Now…when is the next one? Oh yes, August in Brattleboro, VT. More on that later. And yep! I’m going to be there!
I finally agreed to participate in the upcoming Vermont Antiquarian Book Fair. Great but I’m kinda worried about what books to bring. I started pulling books off shelves and filling up boxes then started seconding guessing myself. I put them all back. I shouldn’t fret so but I do. And I think, why did I agree to do this? I admit I did so under pressure from the VT Bricks & Mortar Society and my fellow used bookstore friend in CA. They all gave convincing reasons why. Okay, they really didn’t have to twist my arm. Very much. It is good publicity. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to stress out about it.
I admit it does sound like fun. And the thought of being on the other side of the table is intriguing. You see, I use to go as a shopper and admirer and would enter each booth in pure anticipation. And I would always splurge on one book at the event. Like a lot of money. And would leave with a small pile plus that special book. Actually if you want to know the truth, and know I’m rolling my eyes as I type this, we were one of the first ones – or tried to be – to enter the fair. Seriously. We would stand in line at least one hour beforehand. Nerds.
I don’t have table-top bookcases. That’s the other thing I’m worried about. How to display. Rusty said he would make some bookcases to my specifications and earlier today I was trying to decide: do I paint them blue – to stand out, of course – or leave them natural. Unpainted for that a dignified look. Or painted white/off white to highlight the books. Well, doing it as me won out. So I’m going to paint them blue. Or maybe lime green. Or what about the red I also have on hand? Ugh!
See what I mean? So many decisions: what books to bring, how to display, what color bookcases, doilies yes or no, bookends, what else? One week count down. I’ll post pictures. In the meantime, I’ll work to get my act together. I know it’ll all work out. And it’ll be great.
Yea. When I add a new post I’m in a good mood. Today not so much. And I thought I would post about it because, well, frankly it isn’t always peaches & cream in a used bookstore. Granted, one can make it what one wants and just because I’m down right now doesn’t mean I won’t snap out of it. In fact, I’ve already decided how to get myself out of this mess I’m in. (in my head mess.)
First to address my mood and why. It can’t be about all the boxes that have just come in. No, because that’s always exciting. They are luring me to open them up and explore. I’ve had some sales this morning so that’s good. I think it’s from yesterday. In the afternoon I was online and checking out different blogs and of course, Facebook. From one of the many places I visited I came across a used bookstore in England and fell in love with it. And it hit me – which I think has carried over to today – that it is hard work to create a space, fill that space and maintain it all alone. There is SO much I want to do here and I underestimated myself that I thought I would be at least half way there by now. But I’m so far from being halfway. Don’t get me wrong I’m very happy but also frustrated.
My motto in my other location was “one book at a time” as I was trying to change out the inventory to more quality books. It’s more than that here. It’s rearranging, putting up bookends, alphabetizing, painting, building or securing more bookcases to fit open spaces, shelving and very importantly, getting a grip on the storage area. I want, at least, a path to the fridge! And never mind about dealing with all the boxes!
Ok! That’s enough. Time to get myself together. Gonna put a “back in 10 minutes” sign to check the mail. Walk around the block. And stop in at Stoneleaf Tea House and get a cup of tea to go. Going to try a new flavor. Something with green tea and rice. Sounds interesting and refreshing, huh? Then I’ll be ready to tackle whatever comes my way for the rest of the day and continue to plug along! And I’ll be in a great mood.
Last month I hosted a small group of VABA members who also have a storefront with regular hours. As opposed to just selling inventory online from home. We all have books we sell online but we are dedicated to maintaining our stores.
Interesting sharing our stories: how we got into the business, what brought us to our current store location, pitfalls of having a storefront as well as the joys and of course, dealing with customers. The good, the bad and the funny. I didn’t take many notes like I wanted to because I was so caught up listening. I did take down a title of a book one used bookstore owner wants to write: “How to Make a Small Fortune in the Book Business.” We laughed out loud. Yea…um…it’s a joke. We are only wealthy in and through our inventory. We only make money when the books sell. So…making a small fortune…it can be done but the books that could make us a fortune don’t sell very often. All around our biggest expense is our rent. And rent is what can break owners to close their storefront. We are pretty dedicated to hold out.
The really good thing for me was that I discovered I am running my store on par with those who have had a storefront for many, many years. I was able to walk away from the meeting with the confirmation that I’m doing okay with pricing and quality of books. I’m feeling the quality is increasing.
It was a great meeting and I was honored to host the first of what I hope to be many more. I should have taken a photo of the group but like I mentioned earlier I really got caught up in our conversations, wanting to be a great hostess, and also was a tad nervous because I look up to them all and I want to be accepted as a used bookstore lady.
Here are some additonal bulleted notes that I did manage to jot down:
- Occasionally run a zip code survey. If anything, great to see where customers come from – visitors to the area. (shades of my old profession)
- Get off my Amazon boycott and start listing my online inventory through the website. Unfortunately that’s where most people go when looking for a book. Most online sales are generated there. (rats!)
- Radio! A great story was told by one bookstore owner of running an ad for some time and then removing it because no one ever mentioned it. Then several years after it had been dropped, people started coming into the store singing the ad jingle. Needless to say, he started the radio ad up again. So now I’ve got to come up with a cool jingle.
- Store owners can have a passion for collecting books but keep it out of the store. In other words, don’t bring anything into the store you won’t sell. Once it comes into the store it has to be for sale. I have a good story on that: I wanted to buy a book in a used bookstore but the owner really didn’t want to sell it. He started quizzing me to see if I was worthy to purchase it. Yea, I walked out and went online to make the purchase. It was before I bought this store. Customers don’t like to be tested.
- Other misc notes: jacket protectors, free box near the door, better signage, develop a VT brick & mortar used bookstore (car) trail.
Karma. Well, actually that was last week’s word. Because of Karma’s sake I won’t go into why it was the word of the week. Best to leave things like that alone. Things, situations, people. Alone. Did you know books also have karma? I believe they do. ….karma
So that brings us to this week’s word which is Trust! A much better word. But it is a scary word. Why? Because it is has such power. Think of it. Trust. “Trust your instincts.” “Trust in the Lord.” Confidence. Faith. To feel secure. Trust. So I’m doing a lot of trusting this week. And I hope it pays off.
You didn’t think running a used bookstore was so interesting, huh? It’s not always about the book(s).
Elephant bookends just made their way into the store.
And then something fun happens. Makes my day!
I came across a little leather notebook that was filled with books read by the previous
owner. The listing begins in 1936 and ends 1999. There are also little tidbits included within the pages: how-to shorten pants including drawings, a list of who to invite to a card party, barometer information (rising and falling), books to be on the watch for. There is also a separate tally of how many fiction and non-fiction books were read per year. The lists were faithfully keep throughout until I’m assuming the book was filled. Which it is.
I thought it would be interesting to see what this woman read in 1936. I wonder how old she was and what her life was like. Maybe we can tell by the titles/authors. Here it is as she jotted it down:
“Books Read -1936 – Beginning Nov.
- IF I HAD FOUR APPLES, J. Lawrence
- SPRING COMES AGAIN, Bess Streeter Aldrich
- HEAVEN’S MY DESTINATION
- B.C., Bernard McFadden
- MISS BISHOP, Aldrich
- NOW WE SET OUT, Susan Ertz
- SKIN DEEP
- BRAIN TESTS, Gibson
- THOSE FITZENBERGERS, Martin
- THE EXILE, Pearl Buck
- MARRIED SWEETHEARTS
- NOW IT CAN BE TOLD, Philip Gibbs
- CHARM OF THE ANTIQUE, Shackleton
- GONE WITH THE WIND, Marg. Mitchell
- SUMMER LIGHTENING, Corliss
- THE SOUND OF RUNNING FEET, J. Lawrence
- EDNA: THE WIFE, Harriet Ayer Barnes
- THE CLOCK BOOK, Nutting
- AROUND THE WORLD IN 11 YRS, Abbe
- CANDLE INDOORS
- MARRIAGE IS POSSIBLE, Widdemer
- WOMAN ALIVE
- THE MAINSPRING
Total read: 23
15 F. 8 N.F.”
Looking from the backdoor towards the front.
I’m asked periodically if I always wanted to own a [used] bookstore. Was it a life goal? With a pending high school reunion (40th) I find myself reflecting on how this came to be. Me, owning a used bookstore. Was this my journey? How did this happen? Of course, I’m also asking myself HOW could I be celebrating (?) my 40th high school reunion? When did I get ‘old’?
So looking back on my life the first time I really remember having an association with books is actually when we moved to Vermont. I was 8. Though I do remember quite vividly (even in my old age) when I learned to read. I was in first grade (Ballston Spa, NY) and was in the low reading group. Those who couldn’t read. Book of choice was, of course, DICK AND JANE. Suddenly the letters became words and then the words became sentences! I remember jumping up and yelling, “I can read!” and started reading out loud and wouldn’t stop until I had finished the book. I ran home shouting all the way. We lived three blocks from the school. I didn’t stop until I found my mother and then started reading to her. I also remember learning the word “island” and it’s correct pronunciation from my brother, #1. A cherished memory. And by the way, after learning to read, the next day I was placed in the top reading group. No holding me back!
When we moved to the Middlebury area (Weybridge) I would ride my bike to the Ilsley Public Library and enjoyed walking around the library shelving and would even sneak along Main Street (we actually weren’t allowed to go into the town) to the Vermont Book Shop to admire their books. Each summer Ilsley would host a reading contest with the winner of each age category receiving a special prize for reading the most books. And each year I would vow to be that winner! Only I never won. One year out of total disgust I asked the librarian why I wasn’t declared the winner because clearly I read the most. We had gummed stars representing the number of books we had devoured after our name. I had proof! I was told of course I couldn’t win because I didn’t live in Middlebury. The winner had to be from Middlebury. Heart broken! My first lesson in self-satisfaction. Though I couldn’t be named the winner I was clearly the winner and everyone knew that. I had the most stars!
Looking down the front stairs from Main Street
I’ve always been an avid reader enjoying my books – when younger – in a tree, in a specially built fort, or even sitting on my parent’s front steps. Spread out in a chair. I’d read just about anything. Except for Nancy Drew. Hardy Boys were my hero.
I was an adult when I dared to venture into a used bookstore. It was magic for me. All the books! All the piles! The smells. It was amazing. A positive experience that stayed with me. Once inside I had to visit other stores to see what they offered. How were they set up? What treasure would I find? I’d like to think that my store is bringing to life all those memories and sharing those experiences.
Though I really didn’t think I’d own a used book store I am so happy I do. And I’m finding I’m not all that surprised. Books will never go out. There will always be readers of paper books. And those who appreciate and need to hold a used book. Like me. Like you.
Yes, Otter Creek Used Books is moving. Not far. A short walk into the MarbleWorks area. Questions of logistics still need to be answered but have no fear, I’ll come up with something. Wonderful customers have offered suggestions which are very appreciative. Even offering up some muscles to help with the move. And that is very appreciated!
There are many pluses on the decision to move. Only one negative: moving off of Main Street. The reasons to make the move are: no stairs to climb, easier and more parking, windows, the camaraderie between businesses already there.
Why am I moving? For all those reasons. Okay, mainly for the windows. I enjoy the location I am currently in. The owner of the building has been wonderful to work with. Very pro-business which I appreciate. But after five years here I’m starting to feel like I’m in a basement. I could ignore it before but can’t anymore. I’m needing to come up to the earth and be a part of it. Did I mention the windows where I’m relocating to?
More on this later. I’ll keep you posted on the transition with a progress report. Including photos.
Life as a used bookstore owner. What is it like? Well, isn’t it just about everyone’s dream to own a used bookstore? It’s everything you think it would be and then some. Hard work as well as enjoyable. Heavy boxes to cart around. Cleaning books before they hit the shelves. Sorting into categories. Pricing. Shelving or storing until there is an opening on the shelf. Sometimes moving shelves around to accommodate the books. Tending to customers. Seeing what is needed.
I really enjoy the older books – their covers, pages. I shop in the non-fiction sections whenever I go into a used bookstore. Just to see what would jump out at me. It was always a surprise but always what I needed. Well, you know, didn’t really need but had to have.
Purchasing this store I wanted to create a space that I would want to shop in. So this store is really a reflection of me. I know some stores sell merchandise that they know would sell but not so much represented who they were as a person. I don’t think I would enjoy that. Probably make money but not happy money.
So I’m plugging along enjoying the space I am in. Enjoying all the books around me. In boxes, on shelves, in piles awaiting my attention.
And thinking of ways to re-purposing pieces – letting my imagination go. Fun. And creative.