Monday, April 24, 2006



Thanks for your comments, everyone. It's a rainy, cold day here, and I'm going to spend some quality time ignoring any potential customers I might have so I can blog for a while. I thought now that we were all getting better acquainted, I'd tell you a little more about myself, and in so doing, address a few specific comments from the last post. My two sisters and I were born in Bar Harbor, Maine, and we grew up in a tiny town in the easternmost county in the U.S. - Washington County, nicknamed the Sunrise County. Rural it was indeed, and it still is. My parents were "from away" as they say around here, and I was lucky enough to grow up in a house full of books, among people who READ for pleasure and self-education. Hence my affection for books (among other reasons self-evident to those who also love books). Thankfully, school and college did not succeed in dislodging this affection. In college I studied art history and learned to paint, and I worked at a new-book store on the side. I was one of those sullen punk bookshop clerks - I think this is a legitimate and undervalued sub-stratum of our society: the Underpaid (hence grumpy) and Overqualified Retail Clerk. After college I kept working at the bookstore, and since I couldn't afford to buy all the books I wanted, I started seeking out secondhand books. I remember the day I walked into a real antiquarian bookshop for the first time, one with walls of used and old hardcovers, and I swooned. I think I'm still in that swoon, almost fifteen years later.

I knew what I wanted to do, on that day. I wanted my own shop. The realization hit me like a ton of books - people do this, for a living, oh my god, I could do this... There was a place for me in the world. Well, it took me some time to get there. I started selling books on eBay in the late 1990s, and I rented a booth in an antiques group shop, and a table at a local flea market, and that's how I got started in the business. I had a few part-time jobs between the time that I started selling used books and the time I opened my shop - I have that hackneyed yankee fear of debt and I didn't want to have to take out small business loans or the like to do what I wanted to do. So I spent a few years working to make sure the bills got paid, while I bought books for stock and accumulated stuff for my future shop. When things reached critical mass, five years ago, I found an inexpensive and spacious retail space in downtown Bangor, on a street which already has a large used bookshop, a new bookstore, a children's bookstore, and a comics/graphic novel shop, and a few busy restaurants. I'm on a second floor above an antiques shop. I've got perhaps five thousand books in stock right now, mostly hardcovers. My customers are a mix of locals and tourists/summer folk, and students, staff, and faculty from the University of Maine, which is five miles away, in Orono (which is a classic crossword puzzle word, by the way). I have many repeat customers, and I do love them dearly. I want to respect their privacy, so I won't go into great detail about who buys what and what they are like in person. Suffice it to say that people READ here in Maine, for which I am grateful, because it allows me to provide them with books from time to time.

So, Maine. I'm in Maine for a number of reasons; here are a few: my family is here, my husband's family is here, and my heart is here, in the landscape of my home. I go downeast whenever I can - it's about an hour and half away, and it's scrubby, hardscrabble, all granite and salt marshes and spruce trees, and I love it. I can get away from the busyness of the shop and of downtown, and be alone for hours outside, even at the height of the summer season. I paint outside when the weather is good, and I'm mostly painting the landscape of my childhood. I was in Bar Harbor yesterday, and Ryan and I spent three hours walking on one of the trails in Acadia National Park. We saw more birds and animals than we did people (three people, three deer, many talkative birds, a woodchuck, evidence of beavers). It's almost inexpressibly beautiful here - I say almost, because I'm always trying to express its beauty, in pictures and in words. How hokey is that, but it is true, so I don't care. I love traveling and visiting other places, but when I come home I feel like I can breathe again.

The current state of affairs here at the shop: I sell online from time to time, a little on eBay and a little on Amazon, to make sure I can pay the bills. But I started selling online so I could have an open bookshop. I didn't get a shop so I could close up and sell only online. Selling online is fine, it's great to be able to find out-of-print books in a few seconds, instead of in a few years, but I'm not in this business to do mail-order. I like conversations over the counter, and I love sitting here surrounded by books all day, and I love helping people find good books to read. I'm busy enough to continue doing what I do, but not so busy that I don't also have time to devote to writing and painting. I've written a book about the book trade, and my shop and background in books, and am trying to find a agent or publisher for it. I'll let you know how that goes, dear readers. As far as the painting goes, I paint purely for pleasure, although I am beginning to think about selling my work, as it piles up in the studio room I have in the back of the shop. I'll post some pictures soon.

I'll close by saying I've got to get some work done today, and apropos of that, add this quote from Hazlitt's Table-Talk (I'm reading a small Oxford hardcover from 1933, but the essays were originally published in 1821-22): "'Fine words butter no parsnips,' says the proverb."

Thanks, Sarah, for giving some background. It sounds like you've built yourself a good life!

Dan, like most people's, I suspect, it is a good life on some days. Other days, not so good. However, most of the time, luck + books + hard work = glee.
I really enjoy your site. I am a 45 year old criminal defense attorney in Seattle currently selling books on-line (Borges Books) with the intention of opening or buying a brick and mortar bookstore in the next 18-24 months. It's been a dream of mine for many years. I bought about $1,000 worth of books to sell at last weekends semi-annual Seattle Library book sale. I'm in heaven whenever I'm surrounded by thousands of used books!

I've been a book fanatic since I was small, and often when I'm reading your posts, share the exact same thing you are describing about books. My wife doesn't understand our passion for books, but very supportive of my idea to switch careers.

Anyway, I wanted to write to let you know that you are an inspiration to me to keep on working towards my goal of owing my own brick and mortar bookstore.

Tim Lohraff,
Seattle, WA
Tim, if there's any advice you'd like, just ask, and if I can give it I gladly will. So many people come in to my shop and tell me it is their dream to have their own bookshop someday, but instead they are doing *x* (fill in the blank, I've heard it all - teachers, lawyers, doctors, grad students, civil servants, you name it). So. Don't let your bookshop dream go. Save your pennies, start stockpiling books, retire early and soon from lawyering, and open your bookshop. Tell yourself what I told myself when I opened my shop - if this doesn't work out, I can always do something else. And thank your lucky stars for a supportive spouse. In fact, actively cherish this person.

Thanks for your kind words about book-love and this blog. We've got it bad, don't we, but what a way to go...
Thank you for your comments. There are any number of questions I'm sure I'll ask you when I get closer to the reality of opening. I'm stockpiling like crazy (4000+ volumes and counting as of this weekend...)
Tim - Dale Gilbert's "Complete Guide to Starting a Used Bookstore: Old Books Into Gold" offers one of the best pieces of advice about buying books for shop stock: "Start picky and stay that way.... Junk begets junk; quality is self-regenerating." (p.106) Stockpile GOOD books and you will be all set. Luckily, "good" can mean whatever you want it to mean. Sounds like you are on your way! All best wishes and keep me posted on your progress!
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