From KAREN RIFKIN
Ukiah Daily Journal
[I’ve edited for clarity… couldn’t help myself… -DS]
Dave Smith, owner and operator of Mulligan Books & Seeds in the heart of downtown Ukiah, has expanded his business to include mail service.
“I used to go to the post office daily, and the people at the windows who worked there were friends to many of us who work downtown. When they decided to shut it down we protested with Barry Vogel and Mike Sweeney heading up the effort. People had been coming in, especially downtown merchants, concerned about the closure and its relocation to Orchard Avenue. When they finally left last December it felt like a ghost town and I definitely noticed the difference in foot traffic. I started talking to other merchants to see if [any of them were interested] in setting up a contract post office.”
“I knew it could be done and I thought it would be good for me and great for downtown. I had to apply and it took two- to three months to get everything approved. There is a lot to it and I am now on a steep learning curve. I can sell postage, stamps, weigh out packages, use express or priority mail and media and parcel post.
“I can only do domestic [mail] at this point but will be adding international pretty soon. The mail gets picked up here [five] days a week at 5 p.m. [earlier on Saturdays]
Smith comes from a rich and varied background. He became a social activist in the ’60s and worked as executive assistant to Cesar Chavez from ’68-’72 where he computerized the union. The compound where he worked in La Paz in the Tehachapi Mountains, where Chavez is buried, was recently declared a national monument by the Obama administration. “I loved working for Chavez. He was a wonderful man and a very aggressive organizer and because of his dedication to what he was doing he drove those who worked for him hard. However, for us college students it was everything we could hope for working for a person like him. It was 24-7, round the clock, whether we were doing computer programming or were working on a political project in San Francisco. It was a life changing experience for me, organizing the lettuce and grape boycotts,” he remembers.
Later he became one of the co-founders of the gardening company Smith and Hawken and moved on to leadership positions in Real Goods, Seeds of Change and co-founded Organic Bouquet, the first national organic floral company.
“About 5 1/2 years ago I was looking for something to do. I had just published my book, to be of use, about work, and was going to hit the road to do promotion in bookstores. I walked in here one day and mentioned to the owners, Judy and Dan Ramsey, that I had always wanted to own a bookstore. Well, they told me it was for sale. So I had to make the choice between buying it or going on the road and,” he adds with a slight smile, “my book suffered in sales as a consequence of my decision to stay in town.”
His mom had a little bookstore in Miami with a contract post office in the back when he was growing up so he knew what he was getting into. He tells the story of the holdup…
“Word was out that she was going to be robbed and some post office inspectors came into the store to tell her. They posted men in cars outside the shop and a man with a shotgun in a closet inside the store for about a week. It was no wonder nothing happened at this time because you could see the [other inspectors parked around the neighborhood]. The [inspectors finally] left and the next day her first customer came in and robbed her. Our house was just in the back of the store and she came running in yelling that she had been held up. [We identified him from police photos but] I don’t know if they ever got the guy.”
His store rents and sells new and used books. Bestsellers like “The Casual Vacancy” by J.K. Rowling, “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn, “Telegraph Avenue” by Michael Chabon, and Lee Child mysteries are available (on audio, as well) for a rental fee of $2 a week. He takes used books, reprices them and gives the customer half in trade credit for anything in the store. The books he cannot sell he takes to the library. He special orders new and used books and discounts new books at 10 to 25 percent. He uses his own online vendors and guarantees good prices and good quality for his customers. He offers a[n additional] 5 percent discount to book club members.
“People bring in boxes of books and I cull through all of them to determine the quality for what people want and what will sell. If it is anything but a classic and over 10 years old, it is not going to be purchased. I don’t take hard-backed fiction unless it just came out [because] a new hard-backed fiction book by a popular author is selling on line for pennies within a few weeks or months, so it’s no longer worth anything here,” he explains.
He is dedicated to the importance of shopping locally. As a co-founder of Transition Ukiah Valley he believes that due to climate change and peak oil it is of utmost importance that communities focus on local purchasing [from locally-owned businesses]. As our limited supply of oil resources run out, it will become prohibitively expensive for people to trade with countries like China and essential to move toward a local economy that produces its own food and other goods, he says, adding that the better prepared they are, the better people will be able to deal with it when it happens.
About his new endeavor, he says, “It is spreading by word of mouth. I have an ad in the paper and signs in the window and people are starting to come in; the folks next door, the jeweler on the corner have been buying postage, and now the owners of the dress shop down the street use the postal service to ship out clothing orders. We don’t have [surveillance] cameras; we have a bathroom, music, comfortable chairs, a warm atmosphere and shelves of books, new and used.”