Anybody want to buy a bookstore?
Has Danielle Hargis (above) got a deal for you. She wants to sell Books New & Used, the bookstore she has operated in Trenton for 18 years--though maybe she needs to work on her sales pitch a little:
“I do get enough business here to make it worthwhile," she told The Planet in a recent interview. "But nobody’s going to get rich owning a bookstore that I know of.”
On the other hand, Ms. Hargis is willing to sell at an extremely competitive price. “I would like to be compensated for at least part of the inventory,” she said. “I have, I don’t know, 30,000, 40,000 books in this store.”
Quite aside from the money, though, and aside from the trouble of packing and storing the books, Ms. Hargis hopes for a buyer because she wants the bookstore to go on. “The bookstore has been a value to the community, at least the readers,” said Ms. Hargis. “I have so many people who come from out of town who are surprised to see this size a bookstore in Trenton.”
But whether or not she gets any takers, Ms. Hargis is determined to walk away. “The time has come for me, at age 78, to retire,” she said. “My husband is 81. I just need some time to enjoy my home and husband.”
Ms. Hargis, a native of San Francisco, came to Dade when her husband, originally from South Pittsburg, Tenn., retired and they bought a house on Lookout. But she’s spent the quarter-century or so of his retirement running bookstores and she’s ready to bow out. Unless someone steps up to buy the place, she will close Books New & Used July 15, and she has already started trying to reduce her stock with extreme sales. So--
Anybody want to buy some books?
Has Danielle Hargis got a deal for you. Go by the store on any sunny day and you’ll find tables of books out front on sale for 50 cents a pop (buy 10, get two free) or $1 (buy five, get one free), with additional deep discounts for volume. She had two customers last week who filled up a good-size box apiece, which made Ms. Hargis very happy. “That’s two boxes of books I don’t have to move or store,” she said. She expects to continue slashing prices as July 15 draws nearer.
So if you want to buy a bookstore or you want to buy a book, head on down to Books New and Used when you finish reading The Planet. It’s right across from the Subway. For now, though, Ms. Hargis’s point about the bookstore being an asset to a community brings up the question of the intrinsic worth of bookstores--and indeed of books.
Ms. Hargis says her store is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. “Most people driving by think it’s a little hole in the wall,” she said. “They’re shocked when they come in and see how far back the store goes and the little side rooms and things, the volumes of books and the types of books, the variety of books.”
Bigger on the inside than on the outside is such a perfect metaphor for books that we must recycle it here from a previous feature--different publication, same writer--about the store several years ago. Books look small and unprepossessing but open one and God knows where you’ll end up. Books can show you into new worlds and they can change the one you’re in. They do it all the time.
And a book doesn’t have to be The Origin of Species, The Bible or Uncle Tom’s Cabin to have an effect. Ms Hargis maintains simple reading for pleasure also opens eyes. “You always learn something when you read a book, regardless of what kind of book it is,” she said.
But as is the case with many profound things, the value of books is not necessarily reflected in how much they cost. A writer might take 30 years to finish a novel, and scholars assert The Old Testament was an oral tradition for 1000 years before any part of it was written down. But you don’t pay for books based on how long it took to make them. Modern publishing had already made them so cheap and plentiful that tables of paperbacks at 50 cents a pop are nothing new. Then along came the internet, where most of the great books and a staggering number of the lesser ones can be read for nothing at all.
So books seem to be joining the ranks of air, mother love, health, luck, God--things people can’t live without but don’t have to pay for. And where does that leave a bookstore?
Well, things seriously tanked a few years back, says Ms. Hargis. She had opened her original bookstore, Books Never Ending, in Fort Oglethorpe 24 years ago. The Trenton store started as a spillover location for overstock. (When your business model is the two-for-one trade, you can end up with a lot of books.) At one point she was paying as many as seven part-timers at Fort O as well as the longtime capable manager of the Trenton store, Joe Wollam. It shortly became clear this situation was not sustainable. “That was about when the E-books and Amazon and all that jumped up and bit us all,” she said.
She was selling fewer ink-and-cardboard books, she said, as reading went digital. “It just bothers me that so many school and public libraries are taking the books away, the real books away, and substituting laptops or notepads for young children,” said Ms. Hargis. “They’re putting electronic readers in the hands of kindergartners for God’s sake.”
So Ms. Hargis was obliged to close the Fort O location and take over the Trenton store herself, reluctantly parting with her loyal Joe. He still comes back and gives her a Saturday off once a month. Otherwise, the only help she’s had has been volunteers.
“Since then, the trend has been kind of easing back,” said Ms. Hargis. Without staff, expenses were less. Plus she has some good customers she’s sold books to and ordered books for these 24 years, and they’ve stuck with her. “They’d rather order from me than do it online,” said Ms. Hargis. “It’s a personal service."
Also, e-reading has not yet completely supplanted the old-fashioned kind. “I was fearful that books really were going to go away, away from being handheld,” she said.”But people come in and they talk about they love the smell of books and the feel of books, and they say that they enjoy reading from a paper book in their hand rather than a computer screen or a cellphone.”
So the financial outlook has gotten a little rosier, but The Planet noted Ms Hargis reports the uptick in terms of debt dispatched as opposed to yachts purchased. “Everything in the store is paid for,” she said. “To me that was a big accomplishment.”
Again, that may not be the best come-hither for potential buyers, but it is to be presumed that those who sell books, like those who write them, are not in it entirely for the money. Or to put it another way, in the words of one Dade County writer: “Hawaiian vacations are for losers.”
If Ms. Hargis does not find a buyer, she intends to sell books online and will also have a small space at JB’s Variety Store in Trenton (a store which already carries almost everything, and might as well now carry everything else). “I’ll have selected books on local subjects or by local authors, and some of the really delightful children’s books that are available,” she said. “And I can fill requests for anything.”
If she does sell the store, she will devote more time to painting, a pursuit she hasn’t had time for since she started selling books.
Again, one way or the other, Danielle Hargis is leaving Books New & Used, and she wanted to take this opportunity to thank the loyal customers who have sustained her through the years.
She asked The Planet to inform them that, though closing day is July 15, she will be in and out after that during the packing process, and when she is on the premises she will keep her doors open for them.
Until July 15, Books New & Used is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., if you want to buy a book.
And if you want to buy a bookstore, the telephone number is (706) 657-3144.
(Photos by Jerry Wallace)