This post is in response to requests from commenters Chase and Lisa to hear more about the day-to-day operation of our bookstore (sparked by the poll for my 150th post). For those who are unaware, for the past ten years, my dad and I have co-owned a bookstore which specializes in antiquarian and used hardcovers. Here are some of the questions we hear quite often, with answers (some actually spoken, some just thought in our heads as we think “You moron!”).
1. Where do you get your books?
My dad goes out and mugs little old ladies! Most of the books are brought into the store, every day, 3 or 4 times a day: people die and their family doesn’t want their books, or empty-nesters are downsizing to move to a smaller place. We also have a fair number of “street people”, who pick up books in their travels and then sell them to us. We go to local book sales, and the big Sussex Flea Market, and occasionally, church and yard sales. Very few of our books are donated to us…we buy them!
2. What’s your oldest book? I don’t know…let me check the database! We are constantly adding to our stock, and that information could be totally different today than it was yesterday. It’s probably something from the 18th century, although we have had a couple from the 17th century.
3. Is all your stock listed online? No. We have some 15,000 books including 3 or 4 thousand waiting to be listed in storage…we only list the rarer, higher-priced books online (currently about 4000) because of the time involved. To give you an idea of how long it takes, we upload about 50-75 new listings a week.
4. I’ve got this really old book, but it’s been chewed by squirrels, run over by a bulldozer, and immersed in a mud puddle…do you want to buy it?
Only if they were three-toed Siberian squirrels. NO! Throw it out!
5. Do you have any [pause] novels? I take the “customer” to the large double-sided shelves which house some 3000 works of fiction. The customer still has a puzzled look on his/her face. No, I mean NOVELS! At this point, it occurs to me that the customer is looking for paperbacks, at which point I direct them to the store down the street.
6. Do you get a lot of customers from the cruise ships? No…they don’t make it up the street without being roped into the shore excursions…we call the handful who do come in “the escapees.” There are also very few readers on cruise ships…cruisers are usually “mall people” far more interested in souvenir T-shirts than good books (this is a generalization, I admit, but it’s based on ten years of observation!). We average 2-3 visitors for every 3000-passenger cruise ship.
7. I remember this book from when I was a kid…it was blue, about a cat, and about so big [gesturing with hands]. Do you have it?
Not sure…was the cat long or short-haired? I’m going to need a title or an author’s name (at the very least) to find that elusive book from your childhood.
8. I’ve got a copy of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and it’s really old…I think it’s a first edition and it’s even signed! How much to you want to give me for it? Nothing. Dickens’ work was pirated by the Americans to the point that he refused to do readings in North America…there are literally thousands of copies of each of his books out there…the odds of the average Joe having a first edition is extremely low! Many of them have what is known as a “facsimile signature” on them…this is a copy of the author’s signature printed in the book by the publisher…he didn’t actually write it! I have three boxes of Dickens books in my back room! Ditto for Kipling, Scott, and Stevenson books…
9. You’ve got a lot of books…have you read them all?
Yes, every last one, except for the golf ones…I hate golf! No. I have other things to do with my time: evaluating, listing, photographing and shelving those books.
10. I paid $40 for this book at [insert name of new book store here] last month. Why don’t you want to give me $25 for it? Because new books are a lot like new cars…worthless once you drive them off the lot. I can probably buy 300 copies of your $40 book online for a buck apiece!
11. Is this a libary? No. All of our books are for sale. The “libary” is down the street.
12. How much are your books?
They’re priced according to size: thin ones are $10, but really thick ones cost $150! Our book prices range from $6 to $2000, depending on rarity and condition. Prices are marked in pencil inside the front covers.
13. What do you do with books you don’t want? We donate them to the local library or book sales held by local charities.
14. [phone inquiry] I’m moving next week, and I’ve got a whole bunch of books. How much do you pay for them? I don’t know…I haven’t seen what you have! Bring them in, and if we want them, we’ll make you an offer!
15. Do you like working here? Yes. I’ve met lots of interesting people from around the world, including a few famous ones. I learn something new every day, and I am surrounded by beautiful old books in a gorgeous old building. It’d be even better if I made money!
Independent used bookstores are disappearing every day…we need readers to survive! Please go into your local store and buy a book (or two) today! Thank you!