Used bookstores are like mushrooms, according to Frank Oreto. They tend to pop up everywhere.
Getting them started is easy, he said, but the trick is finding the niche that will keep them going with giants like Barnes & Noble right down the road.
Oreto and Jamie Grassman, both used bookstore owners in Dormont, are writing the book (so to speak) on surviving when the economy, competition and advertising costs seem to work against small businesses.
“It doesn’t cost much to start a used bookstore,” said Oreto, co-owner of Eljay’s Used Books on West Liberty Avenue. “A lot of them come and go though.”
Oreto moved his 15-year-old business from Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood to Dormont about a year ago. The larger West Liberty storefront doesn’t get as much foot traffic, he said, but customers are now coming specifically to buy rather than browse.
Customers stop into Jamie Grassman’s bookstore, Beyond Bedtime Books, for both reasons. She’s owned the Potomac Avenue store for about two years, and said the location makes it perfect for walk-in customers.
Repeat customers are important to both businesses, and excellent customer service is key. But you have to be unique, Grassman said. You have to know yourself, as well as your clients.
“My customer is one who wants the feel-good book,” she said. “They’re looking for something they can curl up with.”
Grassman mainly stocks novels, including antique books and a wide variety of classics. But she also opened a children’s room in the back of the store to cater to her younger clientele.
For the collector, she manages an online store of vintage children’s books. For the thrifty buyer, she’ll find the best price online. And for those who can’t get out, she’ll deliver books to your door.
Eljay’s inventory is a little…weirder.
“Stores are such a reflection of owners,” Oreto said. “We have a big niche in science fiction and horror, pop up books of phobias and that sort of thing.”
The store is also full of collectible art, antique typewriters and other oddities.
Word-of-mouth advertising has served both stores well over the years, and both attributed that to community interaction.
Grassman started a book club, and Oreto said Eljay’s holds events each month that are open to the community.
Neither does much advertising, except through social networking sites and customer referrals. Both said the competition—surprisingly—isn’t that bad.
Their main competition is each other, and both owners said their stores are so different that they welcomed the presence of another used bookstore in the neighborhood.
“If there was a store every 10 feet, then more people would be looking for used books,” Oreto said. “The books are so different. You won’t see identical stacks of books in these stores.”
If you’re going:
Beyond Bedtime Books
- Open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The store is closed on Sunday. The store is open seven days a week during the spring.
- Features include novels and antique books, a classics section and a children’s room. Book delivery is available, and books can be ordered if not in stock.
- Has in-store book trading program, and awards store credit for trades.
- Ask about the book club, and online store of vintage children’s books!
Eljay’s Used Books
- Open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
- Features the weird—specializes mainly in science fiction, horror and other oddities, but also carries the classics.
- Will buy, sell, trade used books.
- Ask about sales! Discounts for having a curly mustache and wearing Eljay’s t-shirts, as well as daily sales.