Things I learned from opening a book store…

From jlsathre
Open Salon

1.  People are getting rid of bookshelves.  Treat the money you budgeted for shelving as found money.  Go to garage sales and cruise the curbs.

2.  While you’re drafting that business plan, cut your projected profits in half.  People are getting rid of bookshelves.

3.  If someone comes in and asks where to find the historical fiction, they’re not looking for classics, they want the romance section.

4.  If someone comes in and says they read a little of everything, they also want the romance section.

5. If someone comes in and asks for a recommendation and you ask for the name of a book that they liked and they can’t think of one, the person is not really a reader.  Recommend Nicholas Sparks.

6.  Kids will stop by your store on their way home from school if you have a free bucket of kids books.  If you also give out free gum, they’ll come every day and start bringing their friends.

7.  If you put free books outside, cookbooks will be gone in the first hour and other non-fiction books will sit there for weeks.  Except in warm weather when people are having garage sales.  Then someone will back their car up and take everything, including your baskets.

8.  If you put free books outside, someone will walk in every week and ask if they’re really free, no matter how many signs you put out .  Someone else will walk in and ask if everything in the store is free.

9.  No one buys  self help books in a store where there’s a high likelihood of  personal interaction when paying.  Don’t waste the shelf space, put them in the free baskets.

10.  This is also true of sex manuals.  The only ones who show an interest in these in a small store are the gum chewing kids, who will find them no matter how well you hide them.

11.  Under no circumstances should you put the sex manuals in the free baskets.  Parents will show up.

12.  People buying books don’t write bad checks.  No need for ID’s. They do regularly show up having raided the change jar.

13.  If you have a bookstore that shares a parking lot with a beauty shop that caters to an older clientele, the cars parked in your lot will always be pulled in at an angle even though it’s not angle parking.

14.  More people want to sell books than buy them, which means your initial concerns were wrong.  You will have no trouble getting books, the problem is selling them.  Plus a shortage of storage space for all the Readers Digest books and encyclopedias that people donate to you.

15.  If you open a store in a college town, and maybe even if you don’t, you will find yourself as the main human contact for some strange and very socially awkward men who were science and math majors way back when.  Be nice and talk to them, and ignore that their fly is open.

16.  Most people think every old book is worth a lot of money.  The same is true of signed copies and 1st editions.  There’s no need to tell them they’re probably not insuring financial security for their grandkids with that signed Patricia Cornwell they have at home.

17.  There’s also no need to perpetuate the myth by pricing your signed Patricia Cornwell higher than the non-signed one.

18.  People use whatever is close at hand for bookmarks–toothpicks, photographs, kleenex, and the very ocassional fifty dollar bill, which will keep you leafing through books way beyond the point where it’s pr0ductive.

19.  If you’re thinking of giving someone a religious book for their graduation, rethink. It will end up unread and in pristine condition at a used book store, sometimes with the fifty dollar bill still tucked inside.  (And you’re off and leafing once again).

20.  If you don’t have an AARP card, you’re apparently too young to read westerns.

21.  A surprising number of people will think you’ve read every book in the store and will keep pulling out volumes and asking you what this one is about.  These are the people who leave without buying a book, so it’s time to have some fun.  Make up plots.

22.  Even if you’re a used bookstore, people will get huffy when you don’t have the new release by James Patterson.  They are the same people who will ask for a discount because a book looks like it’s been read.

23.  Everyone has a little Nancy Drew in them.  Stock up on the mysteries.

24.  It is both true and sad that some people do in fact buy books based on the color of the binding.

25.  No matter how many books you’ve read in the past, you will feel woefully un-well read within a week of opening the store.  You will also feel wise at having found such a good way to spend your days.
See also: I want to open a bookstore. Here’s why…


so does this relate to your bookstore. How is your bookstore doing? Do you do the same things? you ought to comment….

Shucks, that last comment tells me that the author of the piece was not Dave Smith under pseudonym.

My college sent me a picture of a classroom, full of kids with apple laptops taking notes.

Funeral dirge, please, for the death of the introspective mind and its replacement by twittering flit ghosts.

I wanted to laugh at these twenty-three things, but they just made me sad and nostalgic for the bookstores of my childhood and youth, bookstores from the time before huge neo-fascist corporations took over the publishing industry and strangled the conduits of creativity that once upon a time resulted in many good books being published that many people used to read. The subtitle of this sad little offering might be: or how my bookstore survives selling junky mysteries and romance novels published by companies intent on advancing cultural retardation. Yes, cue the funeral dirge.

Two events occurred in the last couple of days that startled me, but probably shouldn’t have given my once-regular bookstore tours. One was some complex discussions with a couple of my early twenties grandchildren. They don’t read books. They get all their information from television, movies, game boxes, and the internet. Only the latter requires even minimal reading ability, especially the parts that interest them. Still, one was surprisingly well informed about current world events. He however had no context with which to judge them. He was playing Art of War games on the internet, so I gave him a copy of Sun Tzu. He had no idea it existed and was delighted.

The second happening: I was writing a paper and led off with a fragment of the Odysseus story, assuming it would be evocative because everyone who might read what I had to say had read the Odyssey. Something asked, who? Not true. How many, I wonder, under the age of say 50 have read Homer and remember doing so? There are libraries of fascinating and informative classical Greek and Roman authors, How many are now read by anyone? And then we have Dante and all those wondrous ones who followed him in Europe and the Americas until the nineteen sixties in many different European languages. There is so much wisdom here it is quite impossible to calculate. What bookstore carries more than a volume burried here and there of this wealth? Who reads any of it? Fifty years ago, those old archives of the wondrous hidden on back streets, but well known, were gold mines of these writings. Now, who’ll buy them?

Be here now is the current New Age shtick. Forget about the past and don’t attempt to guess the future. In other words, it seems to me at the moment, those gurus would have us forget all that brought us here, all that we are. How are we to know ourselves, if we are ignorant of all that has made us us, all the glories and mistakes of the past. Instead, the reading few read mysteries and romances. So sad, it seems to me. So damning of our future. Yes, I’m an old man dreaming of the old days.

I used to own a bookstore in Annapolis, Maryland and really enjoyed your list, but the replies do sound like a bunch of old fogies and I know that’s not true since I have read other posts. We really need to think about what will keep the pleasure of reading alive. What will replace bookstores? We need solutions, not just complaints and laments. There is, in fact, so much more information out there than when any of us were young. And there are many more books. Solutions—- Check out IndieBound. I also believe Expresso book printing machines are achieving some success.

Maybe part of the problem is the decline of the value of a liberal arts education and the general decline of the public education system.

Also, don’t malign the mystery, my favorite, chocolate food for the mind. Go ahead and malign romances though, almost no redeeming value.

“And there are many more books.” Quantity is not the issue. And it is a typical response to relegate writers and thinkers to old fogie status when we/they speak critically of anything contemporary. But I find it useful to recall how things were as I try to make sense of the new reality regarding books and reading. When I worked with hundreds of “gifted” teenage writers in the 1990’s, bright young people who wanted to write, I discovered they all were struggling against three enormous obstacles to their cognitive development. 1. They had not learned well or practiced enough how to write longhand. 2. They had read only a few great books, if any, and had read many horrible and badly written books by Stephen King and Anne Rice and writers of that kind. 3. They were addicted to television. For the month I had these young people under my power, so to speak, they wrote longhand for hours every day, watched no television, read no books about vampires or wizards, and read many great short stories by dead geniuses. I will not claim these young people were all saved through this intervention, but many were awakened and changed for what I would call the better. And that is part of why we old fogies speak of the way things were in response to what our culture has become.

    I did not relegate anyone to old fogie status. I clearly stated that I was aware that was not the case and that the replies merely sounded like old fogies. While it is important to look back and examine the past it is important to look forward as well. Addiction to television is a huge problem I agree.

    I think the kind of program you talked about is part of a solution and I was just hoping to hear more of that.

    By the way, many of my most well read bookstore customers read lots of trash including vampire stuff. Some of these people were products of the St Johns College Great Books Program.