Saturday, June 30, 2007

Baltimore Readers, These Guys Deserve Your Support

I see that a couple of young brothers, aged 25 and 27, are getting set to open up new bookstore in Baltimore that will sell both new and used books. I love stories like this one because it indicates that despite all the gloom and doom we read about the future of independent bookstores, new stores are being opened around the country all the time.

Opening what the brothers say is the Baltimore area's largest new and used book store without any retail experience was a risk, acknowledges Jack Revelle, who handles the people side of things, while his brother handles the computers and programming. "Our complementary skill sets are invaluable," he mentions as an aside.

But they are young and don't have families to support yet, so the risk was warranted, he said, and though he wouldn't recommend it, they both already had quit college to advance the business -- he just a semester and a half short of graduating from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Seth just a semester short from Wheaton.
Retail experience also is not a requirement for the employees they hire, he said.

"I want people who love to be around books, who are passionate about books," he said.

His test for applicants is asking them to rank authors in chronological order. "We pay fairly and offer fringe benefits," he said. "We want to have great employees, so they can give customers a great experience."

Their venture is not the typical dusty used-book place. It's open and airy and reminiscent of a Barnes & Noble or the Borders in Timonium -- not coincidentally.

The comfortable brown leather armchairs that encourage reading are new, but the display cases and the checkout counter came from a Borders that went out of business in Rockefeller Center in New York.

"We're big on the environmental stuff and recycling," Revelle said, noting the books they don't use are recycled into paper towels.

What isn't reminiscent of Borders are the paintings, photographs and prints on the walls. Done by local and regional artists, all are for sale -- with the store charging a commission of just 10 percent.

They think the store, which not only sells books but buys them as well, will find a good market in Towson. "It has the right mix of people who really enjoy books, and I just think people like used-book stores," Jack Revelle said.

Barnes & Noble, just up Dulaney Valley Road, remains philosophical about the newly arrived competition.

"The marketplace for books has changed dramatically over the last decade," spokeswoman Carolyn Brown said, noting that both large and small booksellers are now competing with online ventures and discount operations such as Costco, Wal-Mart and Target.

"But, we believe there is room for all booksellers in the marketplace. People who shop at our stores also like shopping at smaller bookstores," Brown said.
I love their enthusiasm and the fact that they realize it makes perfect sense for them to take this kind of risk now before they have family obligations that might limit their future risk-taking opportunities. They might be young, but they seem to know exactly what they are doing.

I also highlighted the quotes concerning the type of help with whom they are hoping to staff their new store. Too many chain bookstore managers don't seem to take that kind of thing into account when staffing their locations. Who better to work in a bookstore than someone who is passionate about reading and books and wants to work around them because it's fun?

But speaking from recent experience, I know that counts for little at places like Barnes & Noble and Borders. When I was not-so-gently pushed into early retirement back in March, I thought that I might finally get the chance to work in a bookstore for a few years, something I've wanted to do for a long time. At this point, I'm not overly concerned with what the hourly wage is; I just want to work at something that I find fun to do. I applied at two different Barnes & Noble stores, one Borders store and one Half-Price Books store. I got one interview as a result and spoke briefly with one other store manager. I expressed my love of books and why, at my age, I thought I would be perfect for their stores. All I received in response was polite skepticism. In all four cases, the resulting silence has been deafening and I'll never understand why. But that's life.


  1. I've thought about applying at a bookstore myself - there's a used bookstore right around the corner I wouldn't mind working in part time, and it does seem like the perfect job for book-lovers. My job and the amount of travelling I do prevents me from applying for a position, though.

    From my experience at least, it seems that the large chains do seem to value retail experience more than a love for books in their employees. You might have a better chance applying to an independent or used bookstore. It seems to work the other way around there.

  2. One does want to cheer them on! I hope it works out for them.

  3. Hooray for the brothers in Baltimore, and a huge Boo! with a nastily sibilant Hiss! to Barnes & Noble and Borders and Half-Price for not recognizing what a treasure you are.

  4. You might be right, J.S. The chains probably do look for retail experience first and a love of books as maybe a distant second or third. I think they are wrong, though. :-)

    Half-Price Books is more like an independent than like a chain and it would be a fun place to work because of the whole atmosphere in their stores. I expected a better reception for my application there but it just didn't happen. Oh well.

  5. I'm pulling for them, too, Jill. Their optimism and courage is a combination that should work well for them.

  6. Their new store sounds like a fun place to kill some time, doesn't it, bybee? As for me, as the old country song goes, I seem to be more an "old lump of coal" than a diamond. :-)

    They're going to force me to take a shot at opening up a store of my own if they keep up all this negative feedback. Looking for a partner to share the risk...

  7. I'm cheering on these brothers, and hoping their store is a success! It's always great to see people with that kind of enthusiasm. And shame on your local chains for not recognizing just what an amazing resource they would have had if they had hired you.

  8. My husband and I have a dream to open a bookstore/cafe one day. We have it all planned out -- it'll be very quirky. There'll be a wall people can write on, and there'll be communal Sims games and so forth. But who knows if we ever do it.

  9. I'm betting they'll do fine, Gentle Reader...maybe all the bookstores are just trying to encourage me to take the plunge into my own store. :-)

  10. Dewey, if you ever get the opportunity to open up that store, go for it. I can't imagine anything more fun than having your own bookstore.