Q & A: Knowing readers’ interests keeps used bookstore going

Dan Griggs doesn’t mind the David and Goliath comparisons. David did OK, and after 20 years in the b

Dan Griggs doesn’t mind the David and Goliath comparisons. David did OK, and after 20 years in the bookstore business, Griggs is doing pretty well, too.

A Rensselaer County native and a resident of Schodack, Griggs and his wife, Cheryl, have run The Book Barn since November of 1991. They were initially in a building on Delatour Road in Latham, but in 2001 moved a few hundred yards west to their current location at 200 Troy-Schenectady Road.

While big franchise stores like Media Play have failed and another giant, Borders, is on the way out, The Book Barn has managed to survive, but not without a lot of hard work. The store sells only used books and magazines, and Griggs and his wife are the only two employees, although their two daughters can be counted on to take over the register if necessary.

Griggs went to Albany Academy, got a degree in English from Nasson College in Maine and then his master’s in English from The College of Saint Rose. He was a teacher for more than two decades, working in various public school systems, BOCES and Hudson Valley Community College. His wife, meanwhile, an Averill Park grad, was an international manager for a publishing company. Their store is open seven days a week, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Q: What prompted you to get into the business of owning and operating a used book store?

A: My wife and I had always wanted to have our own business. She had been working for a publishing company, and obviously with my background I loved books. We thought it’d be a good idea, and it just kind of clicked.

Q: Several book stores, big and small, have gone out of business. How have you guys managed to keep going?

A: All book stores will tell you that everything hurts. Kindles and Nooks hurt, Amazon.com hurts, everything takes away from your business. But I am here almost all the time, and I know what my customers are looking for and I know what they want. We price things to move and they move. Where else can you get a hardcover book for $4.95? And we don’t really compete with the big boys. We used to sell new children’s books, but we don’t sell anything that’s new anymore. We’ve actually co-existed pretty well with the new book stores. We send customers to them, and they send customers to us.

Q: How would use describe your business?

A: We are a general used book store with over 120 categories of books. We sell books on CD and old magazines, but they have to be unique. I’m not going to sell Good Housekeeping. I’m going to sell my Old West magazines, my model railroad magazines and my personal favorite, Reminisce Magazine. Anything from the ’50s and ’60s I’m going to find interesting.

Q: How do you decide what books to buy for the store?

A: I found out a long time ago that you don’t run a store on what interests you. You won’t make it. We’ve added comics in the past five years. I’m not crazy about them but we have them and they sell. You have to keep adapting and figure out what’s going to be popular. Who would have guessed 10 years ago that vampire romance was going to be so big. But because of the Twilight series it got huge. I don’t care about them but a lot of my customers do. The classics also fly out of here. I put up 1,500 books a week up on shelves, and I’m working at it every day of the week. I usually put between 60,000 to 80,000 thousand books up on the shelves each year, and this year I’m already at 43,000.

Q: What are your interests?

A: I love mysteries and I love history, and we have plenty of books in those categories. I probably have more books on World War II than Borders and Barnes & Noble combined. I’m a history fanatic, and I love the Old West where the good guys win and the bad guys lose. I also read a lot about World War II. After I saw the movie “Jaws” and heard the captain talking about the USS Indianapolis, I had to go find a book on the Indianapolis, and see if it was all true. I’ve read three books on that subject now, and I think that’s true of all history buffs. You see something in a movie, and you want to check and make sure what you heard was correct.

Q: How are you affected by the closing of Borders?

A: It’s a liquidator that’s closing them up, so when you have a going-out-of-business sale like that it can take two and a half months or more. They tend to carry things on as long as I can, they’re trying to sell all of their stuff, and that hurts us. But we feel like we’re constantly playing catchup. The rain hurt us last weekend. Usually on a weekend late in the summer you can do pretty well. People are getting ready to go back to school and they’re looking for books. But the weather really hurt us, just like a snowstorm does during the winter.

Q: Do you think there will always be books and bookstores?

A: There might not always be bookstores, but there will always be books. I know Kindles aren’t a fad. They’re going to be around one way or the other. But they’re not going to reprint all the books that have existed for 300 years on Kindles. And I hope book stores are always around. They’re a great place to kill an hour or two. I always like people to buy something, but browsing is encouraged. I also have a lot of decorations up on the walls here that people enjoy looking at it. My wife calls it clutter, I call it history.

Categories: Life and Arts

Leave a Reply