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Articles    H4'ed 1/9/14

Why Should We Care About Bookstores? Who Reads Anymore, Anyway?

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Change in the last ten years has certainly affected our suppliers--the publishers--who are undertaking drastic restructuring, cost-cutting, and draconian price-cutting of their books produced in electronic form. They have been able to accomplish this by retaining high prices on printed books. The huge difference in price between digital books and paper books theoretically should result in driving bookstores such as ours out of business.  But most of our customers have recently been telling us they don't get the same experience reading from a screen that they do from a real book.  I would say the jury is still out on the future demise of real books and of real bookstores.

"You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me."  C.S. Lewis

JB: What kinds of "extras" does Crawford Doyle Booksellers offer, besides, of course, the benefit of getting to hold, smell and peruse actual hard copies of books? 

JD: The founding principle of our business has been to help our customers personally to secure whatever books they want, whether in print or out-of-print, whether they remember the titles and authors or have only a vague hunch about them, or whether they simply are searching for something to read that they will enjoy.  The members of our staff are widely knowledgeable about books, of course, but their success results from matching this knowledge to the often undefined wishes of the customers.  Acts of clairvoyance must occur regularly for us to be successful! We believe our skill at stocking really good books in our limited space also makes it fun for customers who want to browse by themselves. They don't have to sort through stacks of publishers' promotional materials to find an interesting book. Customer service is the "extra" we offer. It means focusing respect, concentration, and inspiration on every single customer--in person, on the phone, on the internet, or in our newsletters.

JB: Sounds divine! I happened upon your shop when I was in NYC several weeks ago, visiting my son. I was wandering down the street, stalling before meeting a friend, and I was magically drawn inside. I immediately sensed what a special space it is and would have happily stayed there for hours, had time allowed. Within seconds, I found three books that I was dying to read, so yes, you make very good use of your limited space.  Take this opportunity to speak directly to the wide OpEdNews readership, John. What would you like to tell them? 

JD: Bookstores are considered a dying species despite the role they have played in their communities as centers for the exchange of information and ideas. I can't predict the future but for people who enjoy the bookstore experience--browsing for books, discussing them with other book-lovers, acquiring them for their libraries --I suggest they take advantage of their existence while they still can. Future alternatives might not be as much fun. 

JB: Amen to that. Just a few minutes in your shop was all it took to get my juices going!  I know you have a manager, which gives you freedom and flexibility. How much time do you and Judy spend at the store and what do you most like doing there? 

  JD: At the beginning, we both worked full time. In the last few years, we have slacked off--except at Christmas, when everybody works. Judy says she likes most to observe the variety of customers, their book choices, and their comments about life. I am a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America and I take the responsibility for buying and selling the rare books we offer. We do a lively business selling modern first editions of such authors as Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Graham Greene, and our friend Tom Wolfe.

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"A room without books is like a body without a soul."  Cicero

JB: How do you find those rare books, John? Is it done mostly online? Do you ever come across a find at a yard sale, for instance, or have I fallen for a romantic myth? 

JD: There's a food chain for rare books.  Spotters sometimes find a valuable book at a flea market or yard sale--but not very often.  I buy first editions up the chain from other dealers by consulting their catalogs or attending book fairs or auctions.  Customers or other owners of rare books sometimes offer me rare editions.  Sometimes I take books on consignment and sell them at a commission for the owners.  Recognized book dealers, however, still drive the market--similar to antique furniture dealers.  Do you know the story about putting three antiques dealers on a desert island with a Hepplewhite desk?  They'll all make a living.

JB: Cute! I understand that you had a talented employee who died a while back under tragic circumstances. Crawford Doyle was involved in setting up a scholarship in his name. Can you tell us a bit about that?

JD: We established a scholarship several years ago for Nicholas Pekearo, a talented young man who worked for us while studying creative writing and serving as a volunteer auxiliary policeman for the New York City Police Department.  In 2007, while patrolling in Greenwich Village with his partner, they encountered an armed man and made the mistake of chasing him.  He turned and shot and killed them both. Neither Nick nor his partner was armed. We were devastated by their deaths.  Nick was very popular with the staff and with many customers.  The scholarship was established to assist other aspiring writers.  Mayor Bloomberg (who lives around the corner from our store) contributed. Nick's first book, The Wolfman, was published in 2009.

JB: A lovely way to celebrate Nick.  I read about the Crawford Doyle Library in one of the articles [below] that you sent me.  What can you tell our readers about that? 

JD: Our store sells primarily new books with only about 250 rare books on display because of space constraints.  The remainder of our rare book collection is housed in a library contained in our home a few blocks away, where customers occasionally visit.  It is the base from which we also operate our internet business in first editions and where I do my cataloguing.  

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure (more...)
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