Thursday, January 1, 2009
Three years ago today, in what was probably not one the most fiscally shrewd--or prudent-- decisions ever made, Pam and I took over operations of The York Emporium used book and curiosity shop in downtown York, PA.
January 1, 2006: another day that will live in infamy? Well, probably not. In the grand scheme of things, it probably doesn't make a whole lot of difference to many people who aren't looking to me to feed them. Still, it was important to us.
I first "discovered" this mammoth used book shop about 16 years ago. I had been haunting used book shops for years by that time and I can honestly say that I had never seen another quite like it. A huge warehouse of a space (19,000 sq. ft., we learned later when we signed the lease), crammed with books. Wonderful books; treasures. I absolutely fell in love. And I had been making pilgrimages, at least one every six months, for years. I was living in New Jersey at the time, and I'd make the 3-hour trek. Later, when I had moved to D.C., I'd drive the 90 minutes north. And always I was excited--coming and going.
So when the opportunity presented itself--the opportunity to live there rather than just visit--we took it. Oh, we talked about it for a bit before we made the final decision. At least, that's what we told ourselves at the time. Truth be told, we had already decided; we were just trying to convince ourselves by those discussions that we were being rational and properly businesslike about the whole thing.
But I confess to you that there isn't a whole lot that is either rational or properly businesslike about running a used book and curiosity shop.
Both The Washington Post and The New York Times have run stories in recent days about the troubled book business. They've talked about publishers cutting back, or cutting out, new titles. About traditional bookstores--chains and independents--losing money or going out of business altogether (some big names, too). About the growing trend to sell books online, or to publish books electronically.
Well, as the great philosopher said, the times they are a-changin'.
But we're not going anywhere. Frankly, we're having too much fun.
I am convinced that there is nothing quite like rummaging through the shelves of a used book shop. You can come in looking for a specific title or a favorite author, and you just might find what you're looking for. But if you don't...when you get to the shelf where your quest would normally be, and it is not there, what awaits you instead might just be magic. It could be a title that you didn't know your author had written, or a book you never knew existed. That's exciting. That's magic. And I get to see that magic registered on the faces of my customers every day.
Yes, we will sell online (Pam has nearly 3,500 volumes listed with various services and she makes daily trips to the Post Office to ship orders). But we will continue to run our mom-and-pop, old school, going-out-of-fashion, brick-and-mortar shop.
Because there's magic here. And we're really looking forward to Year 4.