10 things to ask when you've already bought the store

So you’ve just bought yourself a bookstore. Congratulations.  You asked all the big questions before buying, rent, utilities, cash flow, inventory, etc.  but before the old owner moves to Florida make sure to ask some specific questions about the details of doing business.

1. Where are the lightswitches?

Oh you laugh, but I had to call the previous owner the first day because I couldn’t get the lights on.  The lightswitches by the door didn’t work.  All the switches are actually BEHIND the white bookcases. You need to move books to find them!  If you’re in a brand new building, this probably isn’t a problem, but many bookstores are located in repurposed older buildings… which means the lightswitch may not be by the door.

Make sure to ask what ALL the switches do!  If you’re in a subdivided space, it may turn out that some switches in your space control the neighbor’s lights!  Some switches may also be master switches that control whole areas and if they’re off, nothing in that area will come on, no matter how many times you flip the switch.

2. Where is the fusebox? The gas hookup? The oil tank intake?

If it’s a repurposed space (like a converted house) the fusebox may not even be IN your space. It may be in another tenant’s space!  Ditto that you may have an extra fuse box that belongs to a neighbor!

The gas hookup and oil tank may not be present in every building and they aren’t really your responsibility in most cases.  But when the delivery or repair guys shows up and asks where they are, it’s better to know.  You’ll get your problems fixed faster that way.

3. Where’s the phone and cable jack?

This does control somewhat where you can put things like the front desk.  You can only move it so far.  The jack itself may not be anywhere near where the phone currently is and the cable may run behind or under cases.  Find out where the original jack is so when something goes wrong, you can find it. Also find out where it comes in from outside, should you ever need repairs.

4. Where are all the plugs?

Plugs may have gotten buried under or behind bookcases.  But you’d never know they were there.  If you want to change the layout, knowing where the power is a big deal.

5. What’s behind this wall or bookcase?


If there appears to be some sort of discrepancy between the layout and the space, ask what’s behind the case or the wall.  It may turn out the odd layout is due to something hidden behind the case.  This is relevant if you ever want to move things.  I have a hidden FIREPLACE in the middle of my space!  I just have to work around it.  This may also be relevant for repairs.  If the piping for upstairs is what’s hidden in that space, some day the plumber may need to get at it and it’s better you know where it is!

6. Which ones are my parking spaces?

If it’s a shared lot, there may be spaces that are either officially or unofficially yours.  There is no sense pissing off the new neighbors by parking in “their” spaces.   There also may be some that aren’t used on specific days for some reason.  For example, if one of the neighbors has deliveries on Tuesdays they may need to leave X space empty that day to get the truck in.

7. Where’s the dumpster? Is there recycling? What day is it picked up? If there a specific day for “special” items? Who do I call for early pickup?

Usually it’s behind the building, but if you’re in a large strip mall it may not be obvious which one is yours.  Knowing which day the pickup is also lets you know which day you can get rid of really large items.  They need to be the first thing in. Or if you are throwing out a large quantity of stuff, you may need to call for an extra pickup.

If there’s recycling there may also be specific instructions for what you can and can’t recycle and how you’re supposed to bundle them.  Some places require things to be rinsed, some don’t.  Some places require paper to be bundled neatly, some want it loose.  Find out what the restrictions are.

Depending on where you are, there may also be special pickup days for things like yard waste and leaves or an annual pickup of hazardous waste.

And if you don’t ask, it may even turn out you’re somewhere there is NO pickup and the landlord expects you to haul it to the dump yourself!

8. Does anything tend to flood, freeze, drip, or catch on fire? Do any of the trees drop anything unpleasant or weird? Are there any animals I should be aware of?

Hopefully nothing regularly catches on fire, but if your store is an area prone to wildfires, you need to know that so you can be ready to deal with it.  Flooding or freezing is much more common in most places, and easier to prepare for.  If you tend to get ice slicks in front of the door or sometimes it floods in a specific areas, you need to know this.  Perhaps that corner of the store is empty for a reason…

Nearby trees may drop… interesting things at some times of year.  Fruit trees are the ones most likely to cause a mess, but other trees may drop large quantities of sticky sap.  Female gingkos drop seed pods that smell of sulfur.  Knowing your tree is going to stink once a year can save lots of aggravation later as you try to determine what died.

Problem animals could be things like wasps tend to build a nest under the eaves every summer or aggressive birds that dive bomb people that get too close to the tree.  Or you may have a neighborhood cat that expects you to feed it.  You may not be able to do something about all these, but you won’t be surprised.  Or can warn customers on your mailing list about the issue.

9. Where is the mailbox? if I have a package delivered, where does UPS, USPS, Fedex, DHL etc usually leave boxes?

In most cases, this is obvious, but for a large building, it may not be.  It may all delivered to a central office.  The previous business owner may have had packages dropped with a neighbor when they aren’t in.  If you don’t know which neighbor has your box, you may be in for a frustrating time figuring out where the drive put it!  Or if there’s an attached garage, shed, etc they may well have left it there and you’ll never find the darn thing!

10. Get a copy of the equipment listed on last year’s Grand List

The policy here at least is that you can’t get a copy of the detailed property list from the tax assessor, only the previous owner can give you this.  You need that list of equipment and when it was bought and for how much to properly list it on your property taxes for depreciation. Otherwise you’ll be writing “see return from year XXXX” on the Grand List for a loooong time.  And you may have trouble disputing an assessment if you don’t know what the original value of some of the equipment was listed as.

And be sure to write some of this down! Some of it may not come up very often and if it’s 3 years before you need to find all the plugs again, you may have forgotten by then.  Write it down and tuck it in a file somewhere.  It’ll save you lots of aggravation.

1 thought on “10 things to ask when you've already bought the store”

  1. Good questions – but having made the mistake of buying another fellow’s bookstore ONCE about 18 years ago – the biggest question is – Unless the price is nearer $1.00 than $10,000.00 why in the world would anyone buy a book business created by anyone else and leave it in the existing location?

    Even using my own business with four stores producing remarkable and growing volumes of business, operating in high visibility locations for various periods between 2 1/2 to 15 years as examples;

    We have already alienated enough customers to supply a good customer base for a startup store – and they are never going to come through the doors of any of our existing establishments again under any circumstances – so they are lost forever.

    And the people who love us absolutely adore us and appreciate everything we stand for and everything we are doing to expand and grow into our vision of the future of the books business. It will take an extremely special group of individuals working at the utmost of their capacity to comfort and not alienate that customer base.

    So my advice would be to work in the store in question with the previous owner to gain some semblance of acceptance, then operate it yourself for six months or so while establishing a much improved store in a high visibility location – send the existing customers to the new location so you don’t lose as many of them as you otherwise will – and then dream your biggest dream and work your butt off for the rest of your life to make your dream come true.

    Don’t settle – ever!

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