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Thursday, August 18, 2005

Chapter Twenty, in which The Beggar goes on the Bookstore Trail -- Part the Third

Today we travel south to a college town. Wisely, we called ahead to check the hours of two stores. They would both be open after 10am.

We found the right street for our first store, Babbit's Books. However, finding the store itself was not so easy. There were hordes of eager young students moving into town, tying up traffic, and forcing the partial closure of some local streets. We circled the block twice and finally parked right in front of the book store. One thing is certain: they have a good location.

The store inside was loaded with books, all the way up to the high ceilings. The front area was given over to non-fiction, while the back held fiction and poetry. The selection had a good representation of older books, those from centuries past, with intricate bindings and folio sizings. As well, there were a good number of ex-library books, mostly in good repair. This was overall quite a nice collection.

We wandered every aisle, alert to our quarry. A young co-ed asked if she could help me find something. "Why yes," I replied casually, "I seem to have misplaced your phone number." Ah, but that is not what we are hunting today.

Without any assistance, I located a volume of Christopher Morley, and several selections on the American Revolution. Prices were very reasonable. A box of ephemera also turned up two small pamphlets on the Revolution.

At the front, two cases provided safe refuge for the pricier books, including many vintage paperbacks. The shelf inside one case had begun to topple forward, and several books were leaning against the front glass, desperate not to fall. As in the other stores, a woman sat behind the counter at a computer. This store has an impressive number of books listed for sale online. As she totalled our sale, I noticed little sticky notes inside some books, which were removed at point of sale. This, I realized after a moment, was a method for keeping track of online stock which sold through the store.

I couldn't help but wonder what booksellers of old did in between shoppers without a computer on which to list inventory, check prices, or blog to no one in particular.

So to the second store. A short drive and no trouble finding it by the large black awning outside that declared "BOOKS". The window displayed the name of the new proud owner. The store was called, simply, About Books.

What an unassuming name for such an impressive place. Here was a store of my own desire. Wide aisles with tall dark wood shelving, a display case in the center, a few lawyer's bookcases, and rows upon rows of old books. This was the most upscale shop we have visited this week, and yet the prices were not THAT upscale.

Everywhere were treasures to be found.

On the main floor, we found a few volumes to add to our private collections. Then we proceeded to the recently opened basement. Here there were similar selections, though displayed on more modest shelving. A few more volumes of Christopher Morley were found, as well as a title on book collecting. And in the corner was the working area, which was also the sale section. Gathered here, as if at a watering hole, I came upon a wide range of quality volumes, all ripe for the taking at bargain prices. I had to stop when my stack in hand reached above my chin.

At the checkout we entered into negotiations with the new owner. I had found a catalogue of the 1933 World's Fair which I already had in my collection, but which had several hand-written notes and typed schedules folded inside. I asked if she would consider selling those items alone, without the book. She said I should just take them. Then there were two book catalogues which were not priced. I kept one of them and returned the second, but once our purchase was totalled, she decided to throw in the second catalogue for nothing. If the silent partner finds out what we spent there, she might end her silence in a rather dramatic fashion.

This store also used the sticky note method to track inventory. This could be a good system for me to use in our own store, and make some of our better stock available off the shelf. We will put a motion before the board as soon as possible.

I could have spent several more hours at this store but, alas, I had to return to open my own store. After all, if I am supposed to be a seller, what am I doing buying so many? Ah, the vagaries of A Bookseller's Life.


  1. back in the mid 80s I lived in the college town directly to the south of you, and was very happy to discover a small bookstore with an air of perpetual twilight in the college town. It was called the Blue Dahlia and I found many treasures there. I have not been back since 89 and its probably long gone, but if you can give someone a long-lived fond memory, with the existence of your bookstore, you will have done a wonderful thing! Good Luck!

  2. Thanks for visiting and sharing, Aubrey. If a bookstore is done well, it should leave such memories. Somehow, those we remember fondly are so much more than just a retail business. They truly are, as the Alexandrians noted, The Place for the Cure of the Soul. I have hunted through those college towns and did not come across the Blue Dahlia, so you may be right about its demise. If you are ever in the area again, I hope you stop in to see us.