Brittany Doyle presides over Books New & Used and a young family with truckloads of energy and a big showgirl smile.
The saying goes that the best things in life are free. The corollary is that you don’t make much money providing them—but that's not to say they aren't still the best things.
Just ask Brittany Doyle, who at this strange and mystic juncture of her life finds herself providing two of them at the same time—mother love and stuff to read. Infants can’t survive without someone to take care of them, and if it’s ever happened to you you’ll know a reader without a book is in more or less the same spot. Which is why it's so interesting that Ms. Doyle is transitioning from the stay-at-home mom of a 6-year-old and a new baby to the owner of Trenton’s only bookstore.
“I didn’t want Trenton to not have a bookstore,” said Ms. Doyle, who, with her husband, Dave, bought Books New & Used on 136 West from Danielle Hargis last summer. “I didn’t want to not have a bookstore to go to.”
Last June, Ms. Hargis, who had operated Books New & Used for 18 years, was turning 78 and anxious to retire. But as The Planet reported at the time, she was even more anxious to find a buyer. Not only was she reluctant to pack and find storage for the 40,000 or so books at the shop, she couldn’t stand to think of Trenton as a town without a bookstore.
(Photo: Danielle Hargis Xed out her Closing Sale sign when the Doyles bought the store.)
Meanwhile, Ms. Doyle, 27, a lifelong reader who had grown up in Dade, had been a customer at Books New & Used since her teens. “I start reading seven books at a time,” she said. “At the library you have to have them back in two weeks. That didn’t work for me.” Books New & Used, with its two-fer trades and store credit, seemed a more practical choice for the kind of reader she was.
Later, as the young mother of Logan, a toddler boy so active it was aerobic just watching him whiz around the house, Ms. Doyle found the bookstore a sanctuary and she’d often come in with her boy in tow. “Poor Danielle,” she said. “He was wild.” Ms. Doyle used to wonder how older mothers managed because keeping up with Logan in her early 20s had damn near killed her. “He wakes up and he blows your mind with how many time he can say Mom in the first 10 minutes,” she said. “It’s this competition every morning.”
She’d been thinking of reentering the workforce when her son started preschool—“Not everybody looks at a stay-at-home mom as very much”—and anyway, after motherhood, a full-time job in Chattanooga must have seemed like R&R. So she was looking around and she had her eye on Unum. “Then I found out I was pregnant,” said Ms. Doyle.
So along came baby no. 2, a girl, Linley. Ms. Doyle thinks Linley will ultimately be a quiet reader like herself—but not just yet. “She had colic. I didn’t think I was going to make it through that,” she said. “They cry for four months. Finally I’d cry with her.”
But demanding as all this was—and BTW, anybody who thinks mothering is not “very much” should try looking after a baby for a day—Ms. Doyle was still thinking wistfully of a life outside the home. “I wanted some independence, I guess,” she said. “But I didn’t want to put Linley in day care.”
So when Ms. Hargis said last summer she was going to close the store if she couldn’t find a buyer, Ms. Doyle found herself strangely interested. “I went home and just kept rolling the idea around,” she said.
Finally, she and her husband made the decision to buy Books New and Used. Dave Doyle is a seasoned entrepreneur who has operated a business since he was a 14-year-old mowing lawns. He is the owner of Rooster Enterprizes (That’s the way he spells it, don’t blame The Planet!), the busy remodeling business headquartered next door. His wife says Dave’s been a lot of help, not just with his biz smarts, and not just by letting her use the Rooster warehouse to store books, but by helping with the kids and the house so she can pour more energy into the store.
And the previous owner has also been a lifesaver. Danielle Hargis had originally planned to retire in July but stayed on at the store until the end of August to show her successor the ropes. “She taught me a lot of shortcuts that would have taken me a long time to learn on my own. I’m very grateful, and I still call her,” said Ms. Doyle. “She wants to see it succeed just as much as I do.”
Even with their help, not to mention a nearby mother and mother-in-law who pitch in with childcare, Ms. Doyle says the store is way too much work to be classified as a hobby. Ms. Doyle hates clutter and has 40,000 books—work it out; she spends serious time organizing or behind a feather duster.
But on the other hand, she says she and her husband didn’t buy the place under any delusion it would mint them money. “It’s more just a passion and love for books than wanting to get rich. Some months you barely break even,” she said. “But it’s just having it, being around people, talking to people, being able to bring my little girl to work, being close to the school. It’s worth it.”
Ms. Doyle took over the store when Linley was 3 months old. The colic lasted until Linley was 4 months old. When The Planet asked Ms. Doyle what her biggest challenge had been in going into the bookselling business, what, Gentle Reader, do you suppose the answer was?
“The lower shelves, they used to be alphabetized but now they’re fair game,” said Ms. Doyle. “It’s just pointless.” Linley had begun crawling, she explained.
Ms. Doyle waits on customer Alan Richardson at Books New & Used. She says regulars have been faithful but not everybody knows the store is still open.
But there have been other challenges. “I thought I knew a lot of authors,” said Ms. Doyle. “I didn’t. Now I do.” Some customers who read Westerns, she says, start at the top left corner of Westerns and keep reading until they reach the bottom right. But some who read Baldacci want to know what to read when they finish Baldacci. You’ve got to be able to say, “If you liked him, go for Lee Child,” says Ms. Doyle.
And you’ve also got to learn to say NO! Ms. Doyle continued the Books New & Used two-for-one-trade policy that Danielle Hargis practiced, which Ms. Hargis found meant constantly, exponentially increasing inventory. When Ms. Doyle took over, she found the back storeroom packed with books, and one of her proudest initial achievements was getting it cleared out.
Then customers began coming in with boxes of books to trade in for store credit. “I just took them, just so I didn’t have to say no. That filled the back room up again,” said Ms. Doyle. “So now I’m like, I just need this stack, you’ll have to take that stack back with you.”
Still, she admits, “I can’t stand the idea of someone throwing away books.” So Books New & Used has bins of books you can buy for 50 cents or 25 cents, even one with free books. Ms. Doyle says that giving merchandise away is not necessarily a bad business tactic. Somebody may pick up an author in the free bin, read it, like it, and come back looking for more books by the same author. “So that’s a potential customer there,” she said.
And she stresses that even undiscounted books will still not cost the customer an arm and a leg. “I try to always run a deal,” she said. In the new-book section, she’ll run buy-two, get-one specials, and if customers buy a lot of the same author, she’ll cut $1 off every book.
Ms. Doyle has continued many of Ms. Hargis’s policies but she’s made some changes of her own. She’s starting to stock Yankee Candles as well as books, and she has instituted a monthly drawing for goody bags including candles, makeup, hair products and gift certificates. “If you buy a book, your name goes in it and if you buy three books your name goes in three times,” she said.
The monthly drawings, as well as other promotions—she’s thinking of having a special on authors in their birth months, $1 a book for, say, Mark Twain in November—will all start Feb. 3. “Really, the last few months I’ve been taking it one day at a time, learning to be a mom and a bookseller,” said Ms. Doyle. “February is going to be my takeoff month.”
If you’d like to help Ms. Doyle take off, Books New & Used is open Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., in the CVS shopping center on Highway 136 West across from the Subway. Ms. Doyle says she has a faithful stream of regulars, and more customers who find her on Google as they’re traveling down the interstate--but she still hears people say: “We didn’t even know the bookstore was still here. We heard that it was closed.”
The bookstore is not closed. The bookstore is in the same gentle but mighty hands that rock the cradle and rule the world; and just looking at the way Brittany Doyle’s hair comes rushing out of her head in energetic corkscrews (sproing!) you can see the bookstore is going places.
So please feel welcome to stop by Books New and Used. And if you do, please remember to thank the young-mother-slash-bookseller for simultaneously sustaining the human race and civilization as we know it.