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25 Things Learned From Opening a Bookstore


As someone who has often wistfully dreamed of opening my own bookstore (with a lovely soft couch-and-cushion section with story hour for kids, free coffee for grown-ups, and a leave-a-book-take-a-book section for swaps..), I enoyed reading this blog post called “25 Things I Learned From Opening a Bookstore”. It further confirmed my suspicion that not only have I been wistfully dreaming of opening a bookstore, I’ve also been unrealistically romanticizing the hell out of the idea. Still, for all the pitfalls and drawbacks and foibles and pain, it sounds like something I’d like to do.

Here is the list, funny and insightful:

1. People are getting rid of bookshelves. Treat the money you budgeted for shelving as found money. Go to garage sales and cruise the curbs.

2. While you’re drafting that business plan, cut your projected profits in half. People are getting rid of bookshelves.

3. If someone comes in and asks where to find the historical fiction, they’re not looking for classics, they want the romance section.

4. If someone comes in and says they read a little of everything, they also want the romance section.

5. If someone comes in and asks for a recommendation and you ask for the name of a book that they liked and they can’t think of one, the person is not really a reader. Recommend Nicholas Sparks.

6. Kids will stop by your store on their way home from school if you have a free bucket of kids books. If you also give out free gum, they’ll come every day and start bringing their friends.

7. If you put free books outside, cookbooks will be gone in the first hour and other non-fiction books will sit there for weeks. Except in warm weather when people are having garage sales. Then someone will back their car up and take everything, including your baskets.

8. If you put free books outside, someone will walk in every week and ask if they’re really free, no matter how many signs you put out . Someone else will walk in and ask if everything in the store is free.

9. No one buys self help books in a store where there’s a high likelihood of personal interaction when paying. Don’t waste the shelf space, put them in the free baskets.

10. This is also true of sex manuals. The only ones who show an interest in these in a small store are the gum chewing kids, who will find them no matter how well you hide them.

11. Under no circumstances should you put the sex manuals in the free baskets. Parents will show up.

12. People buying books don’t write bad checks. No need for ID’s. They do regularly show up having raided the change jar.

13. If you have a bookstore that shares a parking lot with a beauty shop that caters to an older clientele, the cars parked in your lot will always be pulled in at an angle even though it’s not angle parking.

14. More people want to sell books than buy them, which means your initial concerns were wrong. You will have no trouble getting books, the problem is selling them. Plus a shortage of storage space for all the Readers Digest books and encyclopedias that people donate to you.

15. If you open a store in a college town, and maybe even if you don’t, you will find yourself as the main human contact for some strange and very socially awkward men who were science and math majors way back when. Be nice and talk to them, and ignore that their fly is open.

16. Most people think every old book is worth a lot of money. The same is true of signed copies and 1st editions. There’s no need to tell them they’re probably not insuring financial security for their grandkids with that signed Patricia Cornwell they have at home.

17. There’s also no need to perpetuate the myth by pricing your signed Patricia Cornwell higher than the non-signed one.

18. People use whatever is close at hand for bookmarks–toothpicks, photographs, kleenex, and the very ocassional fifty dollar bill, which will keep you leafing through books way beyond the point where it’s pr0ductive.

19. If you’re thinking of giving someone a religious book for their graduation, rethink. It will end up unread and in pristine condition at a used book store, sometimes with the fifty dollar bill still tucked inside. (And you’re off and leafing once again).

20. If you don’t have an AARP card, you’re apparently too young to read westerns.

21. A surprising number of people will think you’ve read every book in the store and will keep pulling out volumes and asking you what this one is about. These are the people who leave without buying a book, so it’s time to have some fun. Make up plots.

22. Even if you’re a used bookstore, people will get huffy when you don’t have the new release by James Patterson. They are the same people who will ask for a discount because a book looks like it’s been read.

23. Everyone has a little Nancy Drew in them. Stock up on the mysteries.

24. It is both true and sad that some people do in fact buy books based on the color of the binding.

25. No matter how many books you’ve read in the past, you will feel woefully un-well read within a week of opening the store. You will also feel wise at having found such a good way to spend your days.

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Beth Carswell

About Beth Carswell

I've been reading, selling, researching, loving and writing about books with AbeBooks since 2000.

2 Responses to “25 Things Learned From Opening a Bookstore”

  1. I want one. ~ wistful sigh ~

  2. Katherine Carter February 2, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    I did own a book store for over 10 years. Very few people got huffy because I didn’t have the latest published book by their favorite author. What did happen if they had never been in my store before is this: They would walk in, their eyes would get really big as they looked at the rows and rows of of book cases. Many times they say, “Oh my”. And then they were in a trance as I am when I go into a good book store.

    I had over 70 genres, subdivided into further sections and the alphabetized by author. I miss the store tremendously. I miss talking with the book store type. I’m one of them. I miss it…miss it…miss it.

    I got tired of people asking me where I got my books. But I’d love to own a book store again. Of course, it’s not the same now. I’m sure sales would be slower due to this information age. My success was due to the highway that the store was on and my huge variety. I had the only good book store in my part of the state.

    I miss talking to the interesting customers. I learned so much from them. I learned about the authors. I met people who were authors or who were ghost writers. I met so many interesting people. And I was fairly successful.

    The problem of getting inventory is as your article stated; not a problem i discovered. I had some wonderful books walk into the shop. I didn’t have to worry; I only had to keep up with the flow in. Now the thumbing through the books. I had to do this to every book that came in and of course over the years there were a few interesting book marks but I am sure that the writer of the original article realizes that the thumbing through is for evaluating and pricing! I learned in my early years when I had priced one comic book w/o inspecting the inside pages carefully enough that I would never price any book w/o thumbing through it….even a paperback. I quick thumb through on those to see the general condition. No water damage, foxing, torn pages, underlining, highlighting (text books are bad on this).

    I had my doubts and misconceptions when I opened the store. I thought that I was a rare bird but of course, I found out that all sorts of people and ages read books. I thought it amusing when someone was in the store and would state, “Not a lot of people read anymore, huh?” I had to decide if I was going to explain to them that was a misconception.

    One of my fondest memories is when the owner of two big books stores came in and evaluated my book store. “Nice”, he said. Then he introduced himself. “You doing a real good job.” I floated on that remark for years.