Anniversary message from Michelle!
Wow, it has actually been FIVE YEARS since The Book House moved to Maplewood in October of 2013! We are planning an anniversary party all day on Saturday, October 6th. There will be music, booksignings, open mic, food, and drink (including coffee tasting by La Cosecha Coffee Roasters who opened next door to us, along with Great Harvest Bread Co five years ago as well!) Everyone is invited!
This year also marks The Book House’s and my 35th year in business, surviving three moves, two store closings, competition from online shopping and superstores, and even the “death” of books and bricks and mortar bookstores (which was greatly exaggerated!).
The Book House is more than just books and inventory, but people. I have striven to make it a place of hope, wonder, and comfort for everyone. A community “safe space”, a place for writers, poets, musicians, teachers, and ideas. And books - new books, unusual books, old books, out of print and rare books. Over the years we have amassed a curated archive of hand selected treasures spanning generations . And through Second Chapter, we have developed a network of charities to receive, sort, and organize lifetime collections and pass them to the next generation. The bookstore has thrived and grown in this new neighborhood and sales and traffic have increased steadily.
But after over 30 years I must take a serious look at the future. Anniversaries are a time to take stock and re-evaluate. I, Michelle Barron, cannot shoulder this alone much longer. I have invested my time, my heart and soul, and my lifesavings to keep this bookstore going through economic downturns and re-structuring and moving. And I’m pretty stubborn and don’t give up. But my house has been in foreclosure three times – and now has a second mortgage on it. I have financed things on personal credit and high interest loans through seasonal slumps for many years, juggled lines of credit and credit applications and done everything in my power to keep this thing afloat from season to season, drawing only the barest minimum needed for my own personal expenses and putting everything - time and money back into the bookstore day in and day out. And I did all that while I raised three kids (and several foster kids) as a single parent. When they were growing up we rarely had any disposable income and any I had was spent on them. When I was able to draw a salary it was still just above the poverty line.
Currently The Book House has a full and part-time staff of ten booksellers and over the years many more have passed through, gone on to other jobs, sometimes coming back to visit or work. Wonderful, intelligent, experienced people who give of their blood, sweat, time, and soul to do this holy work without being paid much more than minimum wage (and often volunteering). Doing all the little extras, curating, creating free art, sorting, taking care of customers, moving boxes, and moving boxes, cleaning, straightening, and exceeding expectations every day. But I cannot pay them anything close to what their work is worth or a living wage so they could stay long term and make this a career. There is no savings plan or employee benefits and sometimes checks have to be held if cash flow is slow that week. I always say we are “living on fumes” most of the time. Just about everyone here has to take another job to pay their bills. And of course I pay them first and let my personal bills go late if needed.
The depth and breadth and organization of The Book House and our storage warehouse is more like a museum than inventory. It is the culmination of hundreds of lives and collections including the inventory of several other bookstores from the past... And it is constantly changing! It cannot simply be moved or sold easily and doing so does not take into account the intangibles of place, history, and community and people. This whole bookstore is a STORY. It’s like a living breathing thing and it breaks my heart to think of it ever closing.
I had always planned (hoped) that The Book House could outlast me and continue on indefinitely into the future. It has been a lifetime of work and there have been many times when I wanted to close it and move on. God knows I could have made more money doing something else. But there is nothing more fulfilling and intellectually stimulating in a lot of ways. I have two college degrees, but learned more running the bookstore than I ever did at university. And the people I’ve met and the stories... It’s like a time machine and Christmas and a candy store in the background all the time! It’s breathtaking and addictive. The whole bigger than the sum of its parts. Bigger on the inside than the outside...
But there are factors beyond my control (I'm not getting any younger) and I simply cannot keep this going as it is much longer. Without a long term solution, REAL financial stability, a partner, or partial owner, or buyout/ restructure, I will have to begin the slow, painstaking, excrutiating work of dismantling and downsizing what cannot be replaced.
Due to moving out of the eastern part of the building we have already begun some of this work and have been drastically cutting down our older used books by bringing them out of storage, marking them way down, and filling up our bargain bins and tables every day. (Come check them out - you will be surprised at what we are clearing!) If you are a bulk buyer or dealer, ready to spend $600 or more, and would like to get into our Internet warehouse and overstock to bid on things (we have some great bargains if you are willing to buy up storage lockers or several boxes at a time) give us a call for an appointment.
And, we will also be running a 20% off online sale for books in “our inventory” on our website. Use coupon code FIVE YEARS - Buy 5 or more items and get an additional 15% off. (This sale is for books ONLINE only and not good for new books or special orders. ) And if you are interested in talking to me about any of the long term solutions mentioned above you may call me and we can go out for coffee and talk about it or whatever... I am putting this all out to the universe and will see what happens!
~Michelle Y. Barron (who is not getting any younger) - Owner, the Book House