The Peaks and Valleys of Opening a Used Bookstore

A guest Post by Chris Ambrosia of Ambrosia Books – a follow up to her last post A Bookstore in Sanborn, New York

I wrote the previous post on an up note.  Things went well my first weekend, again thanks to many supporters, friends and family.  Since then, I’ve met some very nice people.  Some people grateful there’s a place to give their books another home.  I’m finding more and more people who, just like me, won’t throw away a book.  I’ve gone through so many basement boxes sorting and organizing along with trying to decide if it’s something I can put a price on or something to practically give away.

My shelves are full and my husband has had to build me another bin.  I wanted a table I could put discounted (even further) hardcover books I have weighing down the shelves.   In a month and a half I have filled four 4 feet sections of shelves.  I’ve had plenty of deposits and moderate withdrawals in my used book section.  I’ve tweaked my exchange policy to something I and my community can live with and have advertised to the best of my financial ability.  I started a website, and signed up with  I’m networking through my business association and my children’s school.  And yet I still go whole days without one customer.

The Saturday before Mother’s Day I sat at the store from 9am until 5pm without one customer.  Talk about discouraging!  On Mother’s Day, I was torn.  I could spend more of the day with my children or I could spend a nice quiet day catching up on my reading at the store.  I chose the store for the morning (alone) and went for dinner with my family after we closed.  I never would have thought that day would be the best business day we’ve had since we opened!

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were valleys.  A couple browsers came in and out, but no sales.  Another point I thought ‘What am I doing?’ Friday and Saturday, peaks.  Sunday again, a few browsers came through but no sales.  I’m doing enough business to cover the rent and utilities but I’m still supplementing with my income from my job.

It’s discouraging but it’s something I love.  I’m sacrificing dinners out, family vacations, and any regular shopping!  It’s worth the sacrifice to do what you love.  I have great children, a supportive family and many new friends who have encouraged me to keep going.

So I will continue to learn, to believe in the value of holding a book in your hand and reading until you’re lost in another world, and believing in the small business and communities around the country that one way or another, make our world a better place.

2 thoughts on “The Peaks and Valleys of Opening a Used Bookstore”

  1. What a nice idea butyou should try to sell on eBay as well, as an eBay seller, you have advantages over non-eBay dealers, and, if you exploit them, I guarantee you’ll begin to see the vast holdings of used bookstores as an endless source of inventory.

    The first advantage is this: your venue is the Earth itself. Potentially every person walking on this planet has instant access to your books every moment of every day. Compare this to how much traffic a used bookstore gets, and I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s absolutely no comparison. You might argue that book-dealers who also list online have this same advantage. But this is only true when buyers know what they are looking for and know where to find their listings. And the buyer must trust the seller’s textual description of the condition, without photos, which is sometimes a large pill to swallow.

    Your second advantage, and no less huge, is that you have the ability to attach multiple photographs of your book to the listing. This gives the buyer the opportunity to see what he’s buying and gives you, the seller, the golden, glittering opportunity to seize his imagination.

  2. I’ll second the Ebay suggestion. it’s a good use of your time while sitting around the store twiddling your thumbs and toes. You’ll rapidly find you have certain authors piling up 3 and 4 deep. Run a search for completed listings on ebay for that author, see if its selling at all. Bundle them together into lots and you can start clearing those excess reading copies of popular authors out in lots.

    I prefer doing lots on ebay since you generally don’t have to describe reading copies in intricate detail. If you’ve got ten books in a lot you can simple grade them by a single word to match ebay’s book grading system.

    You can sell higher end items that way as well, but I’ve found ebay’s prices are rather depressed at the moment. If you can sit on the higher end stuff for awhile and sell it at a flat price off ebay, you’ll do better.

    As to advertising, try Craigslist in the business section. Many people just want good home for their books and that can get you people bringing in stuff. They may not buy… but you may get some gems in the stuff that comes in.

    Also, get your school’s required/suggested reading list ASAP. Put those books together and put a sign in the window saying you have them. You’ll chew through them faster than you can keep them in stock. Do your school district at bare minimum, ideally each of the towns touching you as well.

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