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So You Think You Want to Own a Bookstore? Bookie's Owner Shares Insights

By Howard Ludwig | July 2, 2015 5:51am | Updated on July 6, 2015 5:49am
 Keith Lewis bought Bookie's Paperbacks & More in Beverly on Jan. 2. After six months of owning the used bookstore, Lewis reflected on the challenges and surprises of the business.
Keith Lewis bought Bookie's Paperbacks & More in Beverly on Jan. 2. After six months of owning the used bookstore, Lewis reflected on the challenges and surprises of the business.
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DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig

BEVERLY — Keith Lewis always loved books, and he still does as the owner of Bookie's Paperbacks & More — but, the former Chicago Public Schools teacher said his attitude has changed a bit since Jan. 2 when Lewis took over the store that buys and sells new and used books at 2419 W. 103rd St. in Beverly.

"I look at all of my books as books that I can share now, instead of books that I can hoard," said Lewis, a Beverly resident since 2004.

Larry Kroff opened Bookie's in 1989. He sold the business in 2006 to his longtime clerk, Allison Platt, Lewis said.

Platt spent half of her life working in the store and had developed friendships with Lewis and other regular customers both as an employee and later as the owner of Bookie's. The pair struck up a conversation about five months after Lewis left teaching to pursue other interests.

"I said, 'So Allison, have you decided what I should do with the rest of my life?' She said, 'I don't know, maybe you could own a bookstore?'" Lewis said.

Howard Ludwig shares some of Lewis' more interesting discoveries:

Their talks soon took on a more serious note as Platt, a Mount Greenwood resident, had long convinced herself that she'd sell the business if the right person came around. Lewis, a former high school English teacher, fit the description.

Six months after taking over the store, Lewis reflected on his career move. There have been more than a few surprises along the way, but he seems satisfied with his new line of work. Here are some of the things he's learned:

• The sheer volume of trade-in books that comes into the store can be overwhelming. Customers bring in bags of used books daily. In return, buyers are eligible for discounts of up to 40 percent on select purchases.

About 85 percent of the books that come through the door end up on the shelves; twice a week, Bookie's sends away a dumpster full of books to be recycled. The store also donates some unsellable books to charities such as Operation Paperback.

"It's a bit frustrating the amount of junk that comes in," Lewis said.

• You might be surprised at what does sell. For example, dense history books about little-known events and cultures tend to move quite well.

"As it turns out, someone is really interested in the Crimean War," Lewis said.

• People also leave things in their books. Bookie's employees have found family pictures, airplane tickets, Social Security cards, uncashed paychecks and even a death certificate inside books that have been dropped off for resale.

One family handed over a stack of books from their late grandmother to Bookie's. The pile of paperbacks contained $463 in cash stuck within the pages.

• Inscribed books as well as autographed copies also are donated on occasion. Bookie's currently has autographed copies of books by Anne Rice and Stephen King's "The Stand."

"I like it when people can find gems," Lewis said.

On the contrary, it can be a bit awkward when someone picks up a used book with the inscription, "I hope you love this book as much as I did! Love, Aunt Ellen."

• The weirdest thing Lewis has ever seen come through his door is a catalog of novelty items and gag gifts from the 1920s.

The catalog offered many predictable items such as rubber dog poop and fake vomit. But the catalog also sold many racist items, such as black-face makeup and some seriously disturbing masks.

• Bookie's bills itself as a used bookstore, but about half of all sales are from new books. Often this comes from someone initially requesting a used book.

If the store doesn't have a used copy, Bookie's employees offer to order a new copy of the book and a significant number of people take them up on it.

• Some of Bookie's best customers are "super readers." These high-volume clients read books very quickly and return them for credit. They then use this credit to buy another stack of books.

"There's one guy who comes in here who reads two books a day," Lewis said.

• Hardcover books are sometimes cheaper than paperbacks when it comes to the used copies. That's because the lighter books are often in higher demand, Lewis said.

"People are interested in quick reads," he said.

• Finally, Lewis said that many of the employees at Bookie's have been working in the store for years. They all know the store from front to back and are well versed in making recommendations based on customer interest.

"We've all got the things we know," Lewis said.

He seemed satisfied with his new career, though he warned others not to idealize the life of a bookstore owner.

"People have an idea that it is just hanging out with books all the time, which is fun," Lewis said. "But I don't know that I'd recommend it for everyone."

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