What Compels Someone to Own a Bookstore?

Heavens knows it’s not to make a fortune. If a bookstore stays in business for longer than the time it took to type this article, they’re doing well. If one has lasted a few years, that’s amazing. If they’ve been around for decades, that’s a miracle. I can’t speak to why some decide that they NEED to work with the written word, not want, but need. As a once actress, I remember the definition of a true actor–you act because you must, you can’t do anything else, you live to perform. So, if someone was in acting class and they hadn’t that kind of dedication and passion, the chances for their succeeding was not good. At least, that’s the mantra. But I believe it, and I feel the same way about selling books, be they new, used, rare, or beat up crap. it’s not a choice, it’s a passion and obsession, almost an illness.

So who has this illness, and why? What genetic factor combined with a socioeconomic scenario creates a person who loves the book so much they go without most luxuries during their lifetime, labor to get the word to people around them, and spend most of their time packing, unpacking, and shelving the objects of their love?

I don’t think it’s genetic. But I do believe it can be familial influence. If someone within your home while growing up is a nut for books, chances are you either never want to look at such a thing again as long as you live, or you follow in that person’s bookprints.

My mother read a great deal–not to me, per se, but nonetheless I gained her love for reading just from watching her enjoy mysteries. Naturally, as a little kid I had all the golden books and cheaper storybooks my parents could afford, but the love for reading came through osmosis. My mother’s cousin’s children’s Nancy Drews and Judy Boltons were handed down to me, and I went wild on them, After, I found juvenile mysteries of Phyllis A Whitney and  Mary Stewart. I’d get a catalog for those paperbacks you’d order through school, and spend hours trying to choose which ones I wanted–budgets were in effect. As a teen and in college and beyond I read many different genres, bios, and how-toos, and classics, and poetry, etc etc but as time flowed on, my interests became narrower, and I became my mother in that mysteries were my specific vice, if vice it is.

But I was never bitten by the bug to open a bookstore and try to sell my particular interests to the public. I wouldn’t know how to begin. And I wouldn’t enjoy it. The business end of any endeavor is beyond my comprehension, and interest–I would despise spending limits, returns, counting the pennies all which are essential, vital, for a successful business. And the stress!! The never ending worries–will we make payroll this week, or if not that dire–which publishers are we on hold with? Which new titles from what publisher do we need most–that’s the bill we better pay. Or, we overbought a title, now we need to strip all of them to return, even though we will have a loss–it’s better than keeping them and getting nothing for the expenditure. And even though we like the author, and hate to have to send back their titles knowing it will effect their royalties. And firing someone for laziness, or incompetence, or just plain lack of business would really suck. Hiring wouldn’t be any easier for me. I would want to employ everyone who bothered to apply if they seemed really eager to do the job, regardless of experience, which would be downright dumb of me.

So, who out there puts themselves through this process? And then works night and day to keep the place afloat, who wants to be on the floor helping customers while at the same time trying to juggle bills? What do these noble beings get out of this hell called owning a bookstore?

I don’t know–you tell me.

8 thoughts on “What Compels Someone to Own a Bookstore?”

  1. Hi! We may sell books, but our “business” is people. That is probably true of any satisfying endeavour. Books happen to be what we like to share between us, rather than clothing, or coffee, and so on.

  2. I remember attending a training session 20 years ago that said that in order to find job satisfaction, you had to find what you loved to do and then find a way to make it pay the bills. At the time I remember laughing and thinking “no one is going to pay me for lying on my bed eating a bowl of cereal and reading a book!”

    I did have to get out of bed – but I do sometimes have cereal in the Bookstore I have run for the last 10 years. Sometimes when I’m juggling those bills (I’m glad its not just me who gets put on hold…) I think maybe I should pack it all in. Go work somewhere where I have no responsibilities other than turning up from 9-5 but after a few seconds I realise how crazy that would make me.

    I kinda fell into the bookselling business (or did the universe push me???)but once there, this is what keeps me going:

    Running a bookstore means something. It makes people happy. Its almost a community service. When I match someone up with the perfect book I get a warm glow inside. Juggling those bills enables me to keep 4 people who love books employed and allows a space for those book loving customers to come and enthuse about their latest finds. Books make people happy – and a bookstore lets people share that happiness. Maybe that’s what its all about – sharing the joy!

    • Bravo!

      It is definitely not a business for the self absorbed … but after awhile, with a great deal of time invested listening to customers and a lot of dog work, it is possible to develop a store to the point where it becomes a valuable community resource.

      Turning the key to open the store an hour or three early so you can actually get some work done is like unlocking the gates to your own special place in heaven.

      Book lovers appreciate a good books store – but good books stores don’t just happen.

  3. Your “Rex Stout and me” post of June 11

    Re: Your “Rex Stout and me” post of June 11th

    [Sorry to have to comment here instead of on the post where it belongs, but apparently too late to add comments to that post.]

    More “serendipity”:  I became a devoted fan of Nero Wolfe through the TV series and actually remember AEHost_Diane from the A&E forums, circa Spring 2001, so it was quite a stitch to stumble on your blog after all this time!   Kudos on that incredible Nero Wolfe Collection find.  I assume the letters are the “Archive of Correspondence” offered by McCoy’s Rare Books on Abebooks (at $4000, way out of my reach).

    Fascinating to discover that Rex Stout had more than one close pen pal relationship with a fan; his correspondence with Marion Wilcox is the ‘known’ one (per John McAleer’s biography of Stout, the Rex Stout Archives at Boston College, and her own published reminiscenses), but yours is obviously a different fan friend of his.

    • Wow!! Tina! How amazing to find me and my Stout article here! That’s fantastic! Boy, it seems so long ago, and it was! LOL. Yes, I have one of those letters, but I couldn’t tell you if my life depended on it who the person was who corresponded with Stout. My letter is in NY, I’m not, lol. I should have my husband check it, just to see if the mice or ghosts haven’t stolen it. The letter is to a woman whose husband worked at a chocolate factory or something, and she sent Stout candy. Yes, the ABE letters are Jamie McCoy’s and he’s selling many of his first editions on ebay right now. Cutting down, I simply don’t know how to do that yet. And his collection is to die for, excuse the pun. Did we chat a lot at A&E? And did I know you as Tina? Forgive me for my sort of hazy memory–I’m old now. I loved the Wolfe series on A&E–and I’m ticked that the network has succumbed to stupid programming, instead of the ARTS part it used to have. When they lost Law and Order to TNT, it went down hill. After they ended the mysteries.com forum, I was a police officer there, lol–a moderator who would delete nasty troll people’s posts. Once on the Christian board, I deleted everything one nutcase wrote. It was satisfying, ha ha. Don’t be a stranger here–come back come back. What book do you remember discussing? I enjoyed seeing the commercials for each author all month long. Plus, my name was in it at the end! Hope to see you again!

  4. Hannah and Dan–bravo! I agree with each and every word you say and I admire your ability to take care of business while fulfilling the love of books and connecting people to them. That was my greatest pleasure during my time selling books, and even today, if in a bookstore and someone is browsing nearby, I have a hard time not recommending something to them.
    Thanks for responding, and please keep up the hard work–we who are made happy by your stores need you!

  5. I totally agree with what you say and I want to congratulate you on taking care of business as well as connecting people to you love doing. Well when my friends asked me about getting into the book selling business, I told them not too but now I am going to tell them that yes they and it’s all because of you. It’s all about the people.
    Reading books the old way, getting into cozy sofa in front of the heater is what I like to do.

    Thanks for this amazing post !!!!
    Respect and Happy Christmas in advance 🙂

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