Of course….visit another used bookstore! Rusty and I found ourselves heading northward and I remembered, “Hey! Ben’s having a 50% off sale! Let’s check it out!” So we did. Each used bookshop I visit I find that it totally reflects the owner. How can it not? [Yes, I wonder how my shop reflects me! What am I saying about myself? Curious.] The Country Bookshop [35 Mill Street, Plainfield, VT] is so Ben Koenig. And I mean that in the most respectful way. He has the best sense of humor and a broad knowledge of the used bookstore world – business and books. And knows his customers. I’ve always wanted to visit him in his world. Unfortunately he wasn’t in that day as Sundays are his day off. Mine, too. Lucky for him he has a great employee, Frances, who was minding the shop for him. We had a great conversation about books, the internet, and working in a used bookstore. I took advantage of his generous sale and left with a good stack of books to bring back here to the store. (Another way how we get inventory.) In fact, Ben, was the one who stated at a Brick & Mortar meeting that if you are going to have a sale why not make if fun for everyone. Make it 50%! So I do. And yes, it is a lot of fun. And a good way to move around inventory as well. When Ben is having a sale there are a zillion signs around proclaiming that one is going on. Here is one:It’s gets me how the sign states “It may seem too good but it’s true!” When I host a sale I get people coming up to me asking if ALL books are 50%. I guess it does seem too good to be true. But it is! That’s where the fun comes in. Seeing the joy over the book buyer’s face with the realization that yes, the books they have in their hand is indeed half off. The next day, Rusty and I hiked Buck Mountain. It’s been on our bucket list for years. We decided to tackle it as the first hike of the season. A wonderful climb with an amazing view of the lower Vermont Champlain Valley.
See the green post-it notes? The other day, my daughter, Hannah, just returned to the store from checking the mail and walked from the Big Yellow Room towards the Children’s Room when she let out a squeal, “We got a post-it, too!” What? She explained to me that she had seen a post-it note on Flatbread’s outdoor menu board and just discovered one in our store. Well, that has to mean something! Recognizing “@foundhello” was a twitter thing, I went online to check it out. Apparently someone goes around and puts post-it notes on random places for people to find and enjoy. And to encourage. Positive messages. So I grabbed my cell and took photos.
The other day I went to post a letter and as I approached the mail box I noted something green fluttering and lo and behold! another post-it note! Marble Works received three! At least that’s all I found.
I really like the message left in my store. I don’t know if it is a message meant for me but I am taking it to heart. I’m not going out without a good fight! I’ll continue working hard to keep this store open. I don’t want to take my inventory home and be an online used book store. So to whoever you are, thank you! It was a nice treat to find the notes and smile.
I love stuff like this.
I’ve been put off posting for a bit. Mainly because I didn’t want to write about what’s been going on here but due to a rumor that was just told me I felt the need to blog about it. All will be fine.
As many know by now, I have my store on the market, for sale. Oh, it was a hard decision, you can be assured of that but I am one to be honest and forthright. Rather than hearing rumors you may read the reasons. If one stopped in the store I would answer all questions as I have been doing.
Back in November 2012 I was taken to Porter Hospital and checked myself into the ER with heart palpitations. Severe enough that the doctor wanted to admit me for overnight monitoring but nope, I wasn’t going to have that. So I did everything I could within my power to breathe through, meditate, relax, anything! to bring my heart beat down and within the range to allow me to go home. Oh yea, and meds. I was diagnosed with a condition -don’t ask me to spell it- and on medication and recognizing that it will now be something I have to live with. No problem! All tests came back that I was fine and to continue doing everything as I have been.
During my time in the ER my husband, Rusty, asked me to “please, now put the store on the market so we could have quality time together.” Hiking, camping, traveling, and the like. This event was to serve as our wake-up call. Our roles have reversed somewhat from when we were first married and throughout most of our married life. He worked 24/7 it seemed while General Manager of the Middlebury Inn. Now that he is GM at the Courtyard Marriott, he is awarded with more downtime though he could be there 24/7 because well, that is his nature. But he has many weekends off. I don’t. I work in the store six days a week and though it isn’t taxing it does take dedication.
I am a person who lives by my word. It took me several months to actually make the commitment and seek out a realtor and then it took me several weeks once committed to come to the realization that it wasn’t going to sell overnight. Phew! So now you realize I have mixed feelings about this but I understand and appreciate that when the right buyer comes along it will be right.
I can’t help but look back on my life as a bookstore lady and recognize that I have mostly achieved my dreams. Though owning a used bookstore was never in my life plans it should have been. I’m proud of how I turned around the business from a failing Main Street business to one that is now on its own, paying its bills. I moved the store, going on two years now, to the Marble Works. I understand in deciding to move the store that I would be setting it back again a few years but one that I have never looked back on with regret. I love this space with its nooks and crannies. I love the community of the Marble Works. We look after one another. I love how some who live in the Marble Works Residences pop in to see how I’m doing. What I’m finding here is what I hoped to and expected on Main Street but didn’t happen. It is a wonderful world ‘down here’.
I stayed in my previous employment for over a year at the Addison County Chamber of Commerce in order to pay the store’s bills. Sales & Use Tax was paid quarterly. When I left ACCOC it took a number of months until I received new paperwork in the mail from the state that I was now required to pay S&U Tax monthly. Hooray! That was my first sign that the business was turning and from that I have done well. But leaving Main Street was somewhat of a difficult decision only because I knew it was going to be hard for customers to find the new location. No business really wants to leave Main Street. But I was in the basement of an aged building that the owners didn’t reinvest in. There was a crack in the foundation that when it rained I had to be prepared for puddles appearing. In the summer I was daily spraying the outside of the building to detract the bugs crawling in. No windows but for the large plate glass overlooking Main Street and one in the back door. And with pending railroad work it really threatened the ability of keeping the door open. At least the front door. Hence my decision to move the business. Though it did set me back financially I would do it again.
I’m outgrowing this space but I love looking for other ways to feature the books. Just being creative. My claustrophobia is getting better. I look around myself now and see piles of books waiting for pricing or shelving. And the boxes! Many boxes waiting to be gone through.
So enough of this break! I have got shelving to do. Open up a box or two. Look-up some books for a customer and yea, a stream of customers just walked in.
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.
I went online and snagged the following photos posted on the college’s Middlebury Campus newspaper [http://middleburycampus.com/2013/01/27/into-the-woods/]. I just had to show the set. Be forewarned! You are going to swoon. All the books came from the store and the pages (leaves) were books that were either falling apart or destined for the local recycling center. Can you imagine a book not wanting to be a part of this amazing set? For information about the play see my previous post. Enjoy!
Great A, little a,
The cat’s in the cupboard,
And she can’t see.
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.
Oh! I admit there are certain types of books that come into the store that truly excite me. And I openly admit they are hard for me to put on the shelf but I do. I know! How mature. Here is one that just came in. Isn’t it awesome? It fits perfectly in the hand. Has enough wear that puts it over the edge of greatness. The title is “Field Book of Wild Birds and Their Music: A Description of the Character and Music of Birds, Intended to Assist in the Identification of Species Common in the United States East of the Rocky Mountains,” written by F. Schuyler Mathews. It is a revised edition (1921) printed by G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Why aren’t more books like this published now?
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.
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.
Excited to set-up a display in the National Bank of Middlebury’s window this morning. Right on Main Street. Grabbed furniture from home, books from the store and misc other stuff from both places. There was so much I wanted to include but really, really, really disciplined myself to edit it all down. Wanted it to be clean – uncluttered – so it would have more of an eye appeal.
Of course I created a character who lived in the space. Pretty interesting when I picked out a couple of books and realized I actually based it on a real person – not just someone within my head – my mother-in-law. So I sent Rusty into fiction and told him to pick out books she would have read and he came up with the selection found on one of the shelves. I think she’d be proud that we thought of her in such a way.
I also included a couple of my favorite books within the display. Taking a gamble that no one will inquire about them. I know I couldn’t sell them. Yea, I know, very selfish! But hey, that’s one of the perks of owning a used bookstore! 😉