Fans far and wide, please accept my deepest, most sincere, heart-felt apologies. I had the very BEST of intentions of writing my final pre-opening post one week before Swan’s Fine Books opened its doors, and clearly fell down on the job. Let the side down, old chap, and all of that.
We are now one week AFTER the opening, and in an effort to make amends, am offering this post regarding the store opening, thanks to my many wonderful mentors, and some stray thoughts…
First, allow me to bring you all up to speed. The four thousand books alluded to in my last post turned out to be 5,000 books – yikes! But what lovely books they are! I was fortunate enough to meet a friend who was ready to downsize his considerable library; that library is now living in Swan’s Fine Books, and I’m eternally grateful to have it. My personal favorite? The full set (12 hefty volumes) of the “Thousand Nights and a Night” – yes, the Arabian Nights. Translated by Sir R.F. Burton, printed in 1896, bound in three-quarter leather, TEG, gilt lettering on spine bright, marbled end-papers. Overall a VG set, and the first illustrated edition. Egads!! Thoughts of sneaking this marvelous set out of the store in the dead of night home into my personal library race through my head….and then I remind myself, no, you are a book SELLER, not a book COLLECTOR. Am I the only bookseller who struggles with this? Is there an ABAA-sponsored 12-step program I can sign up for?
I digress. With but two weeks to go and five thousand books to shelf, there were moments I thought we’d never make it. But to make a long story short and cut to the chase – we did. With much help from Jeff (whom you know) and one of my wonderful mentors, Jim D., the shelving all got done and even most of the sections were alphabetized before opening day! I won’t lie, there are still sections that need some fine-tuning – but we at least felt comfortable opening the store.
The credit card terminal arrived – and it worked! The bags and tissue I’d ordered were all here, the desk purchased from Craig’s list fit the space as though it had been custom-made, the display cases were even more gorgeous than I’d thought they would be. Wine was purchased, and the night before opening day rolled around.
At 10:00 that morning, May 1, Swan’s Fine Books officially opened its doors. We waited with baited breath – now that we’ve built it, would anyone come?
Well, come they did. Day 1 was a resounding success; friends, family, “real customers” all flocked the shop, and they all loved it! Hooray!!
I’m pleased to report that, while sales have not been stellar, they have been steady. Thus far (1 week into this adventure), there have been sales each and every day. More importantly, we’ve had lots of folks in saying “I’ll be back with my ____ (fill in the blank – husband/wife/aunt/friends)”. I’m working far harder than ever before (coming from one who is not known to be a slacker), and loving each and every moment.
This dream could not have become a reality without my mentors, whom I’m mentioned briefly in passing. I withhold their last names here as I’ve not gotten their permission to give them, but they deserve recognition and more thanks than I can ever give. There is Jim D., a foremost expert on Steinbeck and ABAA member, who, after asking me if I was crazy upon learning I wanted to open a bookstore, gave freely and willingly hours and hours and hours of advice and guidance. Not to mention leading me to some fabulous collections to purchase. There is Steve B., an expert on Jack London and current bookstore owner (also an ABAA member), who again gave hours and hours and hours of advice. There are Jackie and Harvey S., both booksellers (of different stores at different times), who again gave unstintingly of advice gleaned over many, many years of book scouting and book selling.
Now that my doors are open, do I have any advice for those considering such a bold move? Since I have at this point neither the experience nor wisdom to presume to offer “advice”, I will only offer some passing thoughts:
• Find a good mentor, listen, take notes, listen some more. Take his/her advice to heart, they have experience and knowledge it will take you years to learn. Be grateful.
• To reiterate some advice we gleaned from this very site when we started planning, take on as big of a space as you possibly can. We had originally planned to lease a 600-sf store, decided on a 1200-sf store, and I could easily use twice that space. Everyone who walks in your door will have a unique interest, and without enough inventory, they will not find anything even close to what they want.
• Again, to reiterate advice from this very site, signage, signage, signage. Swan’s Fine Books is not directly on the main street, we are around the side of the building. So in addition to the large monument sign, we have two sandwich boards and a banner – four signs total, and we still are missing a way to capture attention from across the street. Am considering one of those air-filled gorillas one sees in used car lots. (Just kidding.)
• Allow yourself more than 4 weeks to get your store set up. We did it – but just barely, and 6 weeks (or even 8) would have been far better. To paint, install shelving, move in the books, categorize (let’s not even talk about pricing), and get your operations for purchases set up – it all takes time.
• Budget more than you think you should for advertising. I’m just beginning this, and haven’t yet decided where exactly to put my advertising dollars. But I realize that, no matter how lovely my store may appear and how tempting my books may be, if people don’t know I’m here, they can’t come visit and buy.
Many thanks to Bruce at bookshopblog.com for allowing me to post my experiences this past month – and many thanks to all of the well-wishers who have read these posts and reached out with their support; you’ve kept me going through the challenging times!
Happy bookselling, all!