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Friday, July 29, 2005

Chapter Eleven, in which The Beggar returns from a Day off

Yes, the elderly couple returned to the store. This time, they brought far fewer books. I was certainly not shown a Shakespeare. But I did see the Life of Christ, and about eight other rather old books, most in good to fair condition, though hard-to-find. The interesting story with these nice folks is that they sat down in the store, browsed a bit while I checked out the availability of some of their volumes, and when I made them an offer, they refused--not because it was too low, but because it was too high! I decided to meet their price, and we parted happy. So what lessons can be learned from this experience? Either this couple is of a mighty humble nature, or I am a mighty poor businessman. I can't speak for them, but as for myself, I hope to be something more than just a businessman. I want to be part of the community, to know my regular clients, to hear people's stories and learn something from them, and to give back when I can, all in the name of strengthening and growing the community.

I am full of ambition and I opened the store today knowing this little shop as such is just the beginning.

Chapter Ten, in which The Beggars enjoy a good Hunt

A night and a morning of book hunting has yielded about twelve bags of books. Few, if any, were on the list of specific needs for our clients, but were too good to pass up. Some of the highlights include a handful of quality travel books along the lines of Steinbeck, Mayle, McPhee, and Mohr; The Century, by Peter Jennings; a rare Benziger edition of Bunt and Bill, by Clara Mulholland; a nice copy of Lalla Rookh, by Thomas Moore; and The Gates of Doom, by Rafael Sabatini. Sabatini seems to be in vogue, as copies of his work are becoming harder to find and costlier to acquire. A good amount of the spoils should appear for sale online this weekend.

My private collection of the Revolutionary War grew by eight volumes.

The only tinge of sadness to the day was the inevitable fate of the volumes left unwanted at the end of one of these sales. The dumpster will arrive tomorrow afternoon to collect for the landfill. Thankfully, many of the books will first be rescued for the local prison library--one hopes titles such as Escape From Alcatraz and How to Conduct a Successful Riot From Cellblock D are not among these. The unfortunate thing is that there are so many conditions to making donations in other places. Some places will not come to pick up, others require covers to be removed or the books marked in some way, some want only certain types, like large print. If there is someone in the greater Chicagoland area who is looking for book donations without requiring red tape, drop us a line.

Stay tuned: we may be working on next year's fundraiser.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Chapter Nine, in which The Silent Partner speaks

A couple visited us today and asked if we would like to buy a small collection of 20-30 books. Upon further discussion I learned that the books were dated 1921 and before. I made a phone call and was assured I could make them an offer.

Was I perchance too eager to own these items? The couple decided to return when the "regular" proprietor would be available. In the meantime they would contact another family member in order to give her opportunity to take the books.

How could I have lost the opportunity to acquire such lucious items as an 1855 edition of a book on the life of Christ or an inscribed 1822 copy of Shakespeare? Truly I was disappointed that the couple did not want to leave these items with me.

Is it possible that my desire to own these items was so obvious the couple was offended by the offer? This would not seem likely since the gentlman was ready to donate the books while the wife was more reluctant.

I do hope that they are true to their word and return when our more competent allocator is available. Otherwise I hope that he enjoys this day off and returns to find the store did OK without him but could really use a clone for such instances as acquisitions of treasured items.
(the not so silent partner)

Friday, July 22, 2005

Chapter Eight, in which People are just browsing

Two thoughts, one from both sides of the spectrum: Have I failed when a previous customer returns looking for another book, but can't find one to their liking? And how can anyone not find something to buy among 30,000 books of all variety?

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Chapter Seven, in which more Books come to The Beggars

About 50 volumes came in to the store today. Most are modern fine trade editions in Sociology and Anthropology, with a smattering of fiction. The highlights of the lot are an erotic volume in slipcase on Food, and a delicious volume with slipcase on Passion.

Chapter Six, in which the broken Mold is lamented

A. Edward Newton should be required reading for every book dealer, and suggested for every collector. When admitting dealers to the ABA, a passing grade on a test on Newton ought to be one of the requirements.

George D. Smith was a beloved and respected dealer in Newton's day. A photograph of him brings to mind the word "gentleman." In those days, it seems book dealer's were all gentlemen. Even those few who were grumpy, or seemed downright rude, did so out of a love for books. Of course, the stories are legendary of those dealers who would growl at a customer, deny having a book in stock, or even send them out of their shop, because the customer asked for something by Goath instead of Goethe. A sale was lost, but that didn't seem to matter to the dealer. As a gentleman, he was the offended party.

A couple weeks ago, a fellow dealer, who we shall call Howard, stopped in our shop. Talk turned to a major upcoming book fair. Howard said he usually avoids this particular event, because the entrance fee is exorbitant, and the competition from professionals is fierce.

I have been to many such events. A curious onlooker would probably stare, mouth agape, at the unseemliness: running when the doors open, shoving to reach certain books, literal shoveling of volumes from table into trunk for safe hording until a more careful selection can be made off to the side. Those are the professionals.

A dear friend of mine, and brilliant observer of American government, often wonders, when learning of certain laws or activities of today, What Would Jefferson Think? I wonder, witnessing these professional book dealers in their baggy shorts and baseball caps, What Would George D. Smith think?

Not so long ago, there were no cell phones available to check prices on books before buying them. A dealer knew his existing stock, knew what he needed to find, and knew, to a certain extent, what constituted a bargain. Perhaps I am lacking a strong business sense, but I would rather use my mind, and my heart, to choose the books I need, want, or must have. Where is the joy in going home and processing what you know you have? When I get home, the joy of discovery, the surprise of a rare find, the sudden crash of high hopes, all still await me to be enjoyed and savored. Someone I don't know said the difference is the same as that between the hunter who sits up in a tree on a stocked ranch, waiting for a deer to wander by, and the hunter who goes out in the wild to track down his deer.

I hope I can bring a small measure of gentlemanliness back to the book trade.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Chapter Five, in which The Beggars are diagnosed with Bibliomania

Missing the sales of the last weekend (as well as missing the sales of this weekend due to circumstances beyond our control), drives us to search on the internet for other bargains. We start out searching for and identifying the tracks of our prey. We advance quietly and slowly, and soon we come upon an entire herd, vulnerable in the open, indeed eager to be acquired and displayed proudly on a shelf under the watchful eyes of a mounted elk's head and the rifle which brought it down. The excitement of this virtual hunt is just as strong as any other. The feelings are becoming now familiar: an intense desire to acquire and possess books or the species Rarus, Opulentus, and Teres. We find ourselves even wondering, however briefly, how we might afford to purchase another store for $400,000: surely there is some way we could manage it. It is with a profound sense of acquiescence that we must allow those maganificent volumes to slip into another's possession. Perhaps another day....

Thank God we don't do auctions! (Yet)

Chapter Four, in which the Week is under Review

After the slow start last Saturday, the afternoon brought a significant turnaround in business. We finished with a good day, thankfully.

This week has been spent working through the fourteen boxes of books brought in Saturday, as well as another six boxes brought by another friend on Tuesday. Highlights of the lots include Women's History, Intimacy and Relationships, Science Fiction, Birding and other Natural Sciences, and several complete Time-Life sets. By far the most beautiful books are the atlases, histories, and prehistories of England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales--these are worth coming in to view and handle personally, if not purchase as a stunning addition to your private library.

We are also toying with the idea of promoting our assortment as individual collections. The idea comes from an anecdote out of Newton: once the grand collection of a deceased gentleman was split up by a certain university, each volume being shelved in its proper place among that university's other holdings, the previous value of the books was gone. The true value of a book, it is observed, comes from its place in a collection. As long as the collection remained together as such, it seemed part of this gentleman survived. Once broken up, the individual books became part of a different, larger, and less personal and meaningful collection. So, might we not have, for example, the Don Carlson Science Fiction Collection, the Jim Noonan Civil War Collection, or the Lawrence Archibald American Indian Collection?

Saturday, July 9, 2005

Chapter Three, in which the Weekend is slow

Our first slow weekend. A bit of a disappointment, although we have been able to shelve all our new science fiction, as well as about 150 additional books just arrived.

The man down the street opened a gift shop just a couple weeks before we opened our store. Already he is having a "Closing Sale." He is in the building we once considered, and perhaps the rent is too much for him, or the business is woefully slow (which for him I think it is). We plan to last a little bit longer than that.

Grand opening weekend was a big success. The following weekend was spillover from that initial buzz, as word got out we existed. The next weekend was on the heals of a newspaper story about us, which drove more traffic. Last weekend also came after another newspaper photo and blurb, driving more traffic. This weekend is the first we have had without advertising and without any other exposure. Perhaps another ad is due, in a different local paper.

Finally, we decided to skip this weekend's book sales. There was more than a bit of sadness in this decision, as what else but the urge to collect and accumulate more books drives us in this business? But we thought it would be a good idea to 1.rest, and 2.sell some of the books we already have. So what happened? In walks a couple who are searching for a place to donate fourteen boxes of books. Of course, we will be glad to take them. And whatever we cannot use will be siphoned back into the community to people who can, like the veterans' home, prison, hospice, library, etc.

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Chapter Two, in which the Windows change

With the Independence Day holiday gone, it is time again to change the window display. We opened with books about books and reading, and sold none. We followed with the American Revolution, and sold none, though we did sell some other books on American history. We thought about doing a beach/summer theme, but to our mind that typically means paperbacks, and we wanted the window to have a bit more upscale look. We decided to feature Travel, with the sell-line "Can't take a vacation? Let a book take you away..." After putting out our choicest selection, a couple readers were in the store today, relaxing in the chairs at the window, and perusing some of the titles. And then a few travel books sold. Coincidence?

Chapter One, in medias res

Yesterday we brought in about twenty titles in the category of Nursing. With the college nearby that has one of the best nursing programs around, these will be a great value to students. These titles typically run $30 or more, so with our prices in the teens, how can a cash-strapped student go wrong? As many other local businesses offer discounts to students from the college, we will follow suit, making the deal even better.
Today brings another five titles in Nursing, and many paperbacks in mystery, science fiction, and suspense. Complimenting these are about twelve beautiful coffee table books, mainly on American Indians, with a few various titles on general history. These books are helping to form the base of a growing collection on American Indians, peoples who have a rich local history here, and a subject which a local author has said is in demand.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005


Welcome to the Grand Opening of Beggars of Azure: A Bookseller's Life.