In college I was an English major, but I lost faith that I could earn a living with this degree, so I went to medical school and practiced psychiatry for forty years. When I retired, I wanted to reclaim my roots. What to do? Open a bookstore!
One learns an entirely new and diverse set of skills by owning a bookstore. Business practices including hiring people, taxes, payroll, insurance, and advertising are just the beginning. The real lessons learned are about the books and the readers and writers.
First, I had no idea that deciding what books I would offer in the store would be like trying to drink from a firehose. So many books! So many very good books by very good writers that most likely would be read by just a few hundred readers. What makes a “best seller?” I’m still trying to figure that out.
The most rewarding part of owning a bookstore is keeping company with writers and readers. When a new customer walked into the store, I tried to make time to ask, “what do you like to read?” Fascinating conversations often followed, often introducing me to authors I knew nothing about.
When a local author asked to have an event in the store I always said yes.
Then there were the quirky characters that spend time in bookstores. One man marched in and asked, “Where is your G.K. Chesterton section?” I answered that I had some titles for that author but no separate section.
“What!” he exclaimed with wide eyes and uplifted palms. “You have no special section for the greatest writer in the English language? Shakespeare and Homer were story thieves! Milton and Joyce were lunatics! And don’t even talk to me about modern writers. Can they even read?” He then proceeded to lecture me about my and the world’s disrespect for Chesterton. He told me he would be back when I figured that out, and he turned and marched out of the store.
All of that is just a glimpse of what owning a bookstore will do for you. One thing it will not do is make you rich.
I read. I write. I learn. I’m in a writing group and I have four published books. I’m still pretty sure I’m not Steinbeck, but my heart and soul have found their way back to where they should be.