Used-book sellers find that what’s old can be what’s new -- Gazette.Net


‘People are coming back to the bookstores,’ Wonder Book owner says

by Agnes Blum

Staff Writer

Borders shuttered its doors last year, Barnes and Noble reported disappointing holiday sales this year and just recently the Bethesda children’s bookshop Booktopia put a sign in the window reading “Closing Store Sale!”

But Montgomery County book lovers need not worry; they have another option — used books.

Sold throughout the county at festivals, at dedicated sales and in bookstores both large and small, used books are hanging on.

Proof of that was the people lined up the night before the annual Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart’s used book sale. They were undeterred by a chilly drizzle and committed to being among the first inside when the doors opened at 8 a.m. the next morning, April 19.

Clicking on Amazon wasn’t going to cut it for those folks.

“These are people who love books, like to hold books, touch books,” said Becky Meloan, gesturing toward a gymnasium filled with tables organized by subject.

Meloan is one of two co-directors who works part-time year-round at the school preparing for the sale, during which about 100,000 books are sold.

Cynthia Parker agrees.

Parker opened Silver Spring Books on Bonifant Street in 1991 and said that despite the competition from e-readers such as Kindle and Nook, her business is doing well. It hasn’t been easy, she said, adding that nine other nearby used bookstores have gone out of business over the years.

“There’s still people who want a book in the hand,” Parker said.

She remembered learning to read as a 4-year-old and running around the house with a book.

“You can sit your kid on your lap and turn the pages together,” she said. “You can’t do that on an e-reader.” Parker began her career in the used-book business by buying up a woman’s collection of hundreds of romance paperbacks. More than 20 years later, she said, her clients are a mix of local residents who come in regularly and tourists from all over the world, who often stop to chat.

“The other day, a couple form Minnesota came in and said the Barnes and Noble where they were from had just closed,” Parker said, adding that used bookstores were in a “transitional phase” and it was “hard to predict how it’s going to end up.” Chuck Roberts, the owner of the used-book business Wonder Book and Video, doesn’t have a crystal ball either, but he has hedged his bets by expanding what it means to sell used books. In addition to his three retail stores — in Frederick, Gaithersburg and Hagerstown — Roberts sells thousands of books every day through his website. He keeps his stock, about 1 million books, stored in a 72,000-square-foot warehouse in Frederick.

But he also sells books by the foot, starting at $6.99 per linear foot, to designers, interior decorators, even chain stores that like the look of a wall of books behind their merchandise.

Roberts said that for a long time, Internet sales essentially supported his brick-and-mortar businesses, but things have changed recently.

“We’ve noticed that people are coming back to the bookstores,” he said. Printed books and e-books are going to inhabit the same cultural space together, he said. “I don’t think one is going to kill the other.”

Once upon a time, alarmists warned that radio, television, VCRs and other new technologies would kill older art and entertainment forms, but it did not happen, Roberts said. “They’re not going to give up on the printed book.”

One of his business’ strengths, he said, is variety — from Harlequin romances to comics to a first-edition Faulkner that might run a few thousand dollars.

Come to his Frederick store and you can find a used paperback for $2 or a beautiful leather-bound version for $35.

“There’s something for everyone,” he said.