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This week’s column–A new business I’d love to see: bookstore

From A to Zowie

A new business I’d love to see: bookstore

By Richard Zowie

Last week in the Mt. Morris/Clio Herald, we asked area residents what kind of new business they’d like to see open up in the area. I liked the answers, particularly the dog park and the place for the underprivileged.

Here’s one I’d love to see in the area: a bookstore that focuses on used books.

In San Antonio, where my family and I lived for six years, there were four locations for Half Price Books. Whenever I’d go to look for some literary treasure, my wife knew the drill: take the amount of time I said I’d be gone and multiply it by three. If I planned on being gone an hour, expect me home in three.

As I look around, I can’t help but wonder: are there any used book stores in Genesee, Mt. Morris, Clio, Birch Run or Bridgeport. And if not, why?

The closest one seems to be Jellybean’s, which has three locations. This store sells used books, comics, magazines, CDs, movies and more. One’s in Owosso and two are in Flint (one near Grand Blanc and the other near Burton just above Interstate 69).

On Friday, I spoke on the phone with Ronald Samek, who co-owns Jellybean’s with Teah English.

Samek, who’s been in business for 30 years, told me that while in the past Jellybean’s was in Saginaw, he’s not interested in currently expanding past their three locations. However, he is interested in selling product, equipment and training to anyone who’d like to open a bookstore. Such a prospective store would have to agree to maintain a certain distance from his store. The training they’d receive would help them learn right away what works and what doesn’t.

Recently, Samek had as customers a couple who once ran a book store in Mt. Morris but later went out of business. Here are some tips he offers for those looking to open up a used bookstore:

One, don’t assume that a bad economy means people will flock to buy second-hand books, music and movies. When there’s more money to spend, there’s more money to spend, he explained. When people can’t pay their rent, utilities or for groceries, buying books, movies or music takes a low priority.

Two, you have to do more than just sell fiction and paperback books. You must be flexible and be observant of what people want to buy and what they are looking for.

Besides these, there’s the issue of landlords: what do you do if they suddenly raise your rent from $4,500 a month to $6,000? When opening a place, there’s the first and last month’s rent, the deposit, and paying to have utilities turned on. You also have to purchase cash registers, computers, signs, and adding machines.

Not to mention the advertising in print, television and radio along with the phone book listing.

Samek added that if it costs you $25,000 to acquire the stock, training and the equipment, it could still cost another $25,000 to set up the store.

Finally, the Jellybean’s owner urges people to go into such a business as a partnership. He recommended it for couples where there’s health insurance for both parties. One person should have a full-time day job with regular income and benefits while the other person runs the business full time.

Most of the books sold even at Big Box stores either are a little too expensive, and many of those stores lean too far into the trashy romance genre. Buying from Ebay or Amazon can get expensive: even if you can get a book for a quarter you often pay at least $5 in shipping costs. With a local bookstore, especially if it’s a rarer book the libraries don’t carry, you’re much more likely to get a great read at a great price.

Richard Zowie’s a reporter and columnist for the Herald. He likes reading science fiction, suspense, alternate history and biographies. Visit his blog at http://www.fromatozowie.wordpress.com or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

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