Wednesday, November 23, 2022

My door is open to everyone.

Specialty bookstores are a bit of a mystery to me. 

Why limit your scope? Trust me, you're going to want as many customers as possible. There is no reason not to cater to as broad a scope of people as possible.

Here's the thing. You can still focus on one element of the store without dismissing the rest. 

I arrived at this conclusion through trial and error. Basically, the beginning core product of Pegasus Books--comics--could never generate enough business to pay the bills. So I was always forced to diversify. Pop culture toys and accoutrements, graphic novels, board games, card games, and so on. Not to mention products that we carried when they were hot--beanie babies, pogs, non-sports cards, etc. 

The trick was to add product lines without detracting from the existing product lines. It has always been music to my ears to hear customers of each category describe my store as that--comic people saying I'm a comic store, book people saying I'm a book store, etc. That means I've succeeded in broadening my scope without turning away the other possibilities. 

So to become a Science-fiction store, or Mystery store, or Horror store, a Children's store, the question becomes--are you going to attract more of the specific customer to cover the loss of every other possible customer!?

You don't have to go crazy. I've carved out every niche of fiction I can, even if it's just a shelf or two. I originally was going to skip non-fiction, but I manage to spring loose three bookcases and fill them with the best non-fiction I can find. It's enough. I've done this will a little over 1000 sq. ft., which is a modest size by any measure.

I cater to readers. That is,  I carry enough diversity that a reader is likely to find something they might like. I may not have a specific book they want--but I learned long ago that the chances of having an odd book are near zero, and would be even if I had ten times the inventory. (People seem to have no real concept of how many fricking books there are in the world!) 

But as long as I have a nice selection, there's a decent chance I can hook a reader. I see no reason not to have a nice selection in as many categories as I can do. 

My door is open to everyone.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Junk accumlates like dust bunnies under the bed.

The storage shed is going to be completed this weekend, which means I can start taking the boxes of used books out of the basement at the store. Apparently, the building's insurer expressed concerns about the amount of "paper" in the basement. They have no idea...

So I can at least ameliorate the problem. I doubt we can get fit all the boxes in the shed, but a hefty proportion of them. 

I cleared the basement of sports cards several years ago: just gave them away. Trust me, there was nothing valuable there. I sold off the 40,000 comics I had in the basement for pennies on the dollar. There was some value there, for anyone willing to put in the time and effort. 

Weirdly, the basement has refilled with comics, not only the 6000 comics I bought recently, but at least another 6000 or more that simply accumulated somehow, like dust bunnies under the bed. 

There is a lot of junk down there; old beatup toys, non-sports cards, used books, and comics. Broken or unused fixtures, the detritus of 40 years of putting it in the basement and forgetting about it. 

I'll probably make several trips to the dump with the worst of it, then have to make a decision about the rest of it. 

I had thought that I might start a used bookstore in Redmond, but that possibility seems to be receding. I certainly don't want to throw away the books I've accumulated, but I would be willing to sell someone the whole works for a very reasonable price: bookcases, fixtures, cash register, and used books, enough to get started. 

I guess I think someone some day will mention "wanting a bookstore" in my store and me ascertaining that it wouldn't be in Bend and making them a good deal. Someone could possibly earn a living off them for very little investment. The nucleus of a new life.

As far as I'm aware, there are no used bookstores in Redmond, Prineville, LaPine, Madras, or Burns. (There probably are, but I'm not aware.) It wouldn't be a lavish lifestyle, it may not be totally possible to do used books alone, but you'd be you're own boss.

I did it. I know it's possible, though not easy. I've never regretted it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Pardon me for preaching.

Jesus, the news is so depressing. We're going to lose, and the only thing we can do about it is try to protect ourselves. There may be a test ahead of us--do we stand up for what is right or stay silent? I'm tired of the outrage, the constant bad news, the murderers and liars and thieves. I cling to my idea of ethics even when I discover by talking to people that most them have no idea what I'm getting at. Bad behavior is celebrated while good behavior is mocked as naive. Villains are emboldened while the good are ignored. The rich and famous get away with everything they do while the poor and disenfranchised are ridiculed or punished. 

Was it ever so?

Probably. Not exactly a consolation. The dysfunction is now part of the system. Instead of laws and government alleviating the problems they seem to be slowly but surely used to enforce the dysfunction. Government doesn't work--and By God, we'll prove it!

Polarization is so deeply ingrained by now, re-enforced with every broadcast of right-wing media and protest of left-wing wingnuts, that there is no way to reach the other side. Instead we fall into the chasm of misunderstanding and hate.

The temptation is to withdraw. Obama can coax us not to give up, but the man has done his duty and is rich and famous enough not to really feel the sting of oppression. He's a good man, but he's preaching from a place of comfort and achievement. 

It is my fellow old white men who are the worse; followed closely by old white women. There seems to be no understanding or memory of when they were young and poor, or any realization that their struggle was nothing compared to those who aren't white or male. No understanding that no one is trying to minimize their efforts, but only to point out that others undeniably, indubitably, obviously have had it harder. No understanding that it isn't a zero sum game, that wealth could be distributed with kindness and generosity, instead of used only to taunt. I got mine, tough luck that you aren't as smart or hardworking or Godly as I. No understanding that if that were indeed true (it isn't) it is even more reason to help.

Can we pull ourselves away from the cliff? I don't think I'll live long enough to see it, but at this point, one of the tires is already spinning over the chasm, and the engine is racing. 

History continues, countries rise and fall, humans fail for the same old reasons, and succeed against all odds. It won't look the same, it may not be what we aspired to, but the struggle will continue forever.

Yes, this is a diatribe. Sorry, but it's how I'm feeling right now. Agree or disagree, it's totally up to you. 

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Sure...if the price is right.

After twenty-five years of not buying collections, something seems to have changed.

I spent the first fifteen years at Pegasus Books firmly in the collector mode. I'd buy and sell collections of comics, card, toys, whatever I could sell. I saw comics and cards more as a collectable than a form of entertainment. 

When both the card and comic markets collapsed within a couple years of each other in the mid 90s, I saw the error of my ways. Or, more exactly, I saw that comics readers, as opposed to collectors, were still customers after all the wreckage. It was a much smaller group, but just enough to keep the business alive. Card collectors, on the other hand, disappeared altogether. I even came up with a saying, "Collectors always quit, but readers keep reading." 

I upped my prices up to retail, maintaining keystone from that moment on. It was a tough decade, but I built the business back up on a new, firmer foundation. 

I also had a form of PTSD when it came to buying off the street. Every time I ventured even slightly into the collectors' world, I'd recoiled in alarm and disgust. My anger would instantly manifest. It wasn't healthy for me. 

So I simply said, No. No. No. No. No. 

I would try to stop the seller from proceeding with a firm, "I buy all my stuff from wholesalers and sell at retail."

The very persistence of some sellers only reinforced those feelings. Card collectors especially wouldn't take no for an answer. They'd persist, asking me what their collections are worth. Then get mad when I couldn't tell them. 

Notice I said couldn't tell them, not wouldn't tell them. See, here's the thing: if I'd not bought anything in years, decades even, how on earth would I know what things are worth on the collector market? It's like going into a car dealership and asking what your bike is worth. 

Understand then...I didn't buy anything, no matter what the seller told me. It was a firm no to everything. 

But something has changed. In the last few months I've bought a large collection of comics, a nice collection of paperback and pulp books, and recently a batch of LOTR's toys.

In all three cases, the price was right. The sellers came to me with realistic expectations of what their collections were worth. In a couple of cases, they told me what they wanted and it was reasonable. 

Turns out, I wasn't actually opposed to buying collections, I was opposed the the process of buying collections. But if my PTSD doesn't manifest, then I might buy. 

Maybe it just took twenty-five years to get over the trauma.  

Don't think I've opened to door to buying again, but... I have decided that I can at least ask the seller if they have a price they want and, in the rare cases where they are realistic, I might....might....maybe, if the sun and stars align, and you are a pleasant person, and the stuff personally interests me, and I think I can sell it over a reasonable period of time....I might go ahead and buy. 

I also suspect, the first bad experience will set me back to my former, much more contented mode of not buying at all.


Saturday, October 22, 2022

It's been a long time since I had a panic attack. So long that I'm forgetting what it felt like. I'm starting to minimize it, at least emotionally. Looking back, it seems like an over-reaction, something not quite real. There's the temptation to think I should have just buckled up and got over it.

Intellectually, I know this is wrong. I remember the incidents, if not the feelings. It was bloody awful and I became extremely agoraphobic for a few years. Over a period of probably 20 years, that agoraphobia started to fade, but it was always lurking in the background. And, in fact, it mostly dimmed and faded because I didn't actually "buckle up," but instead avoided most situations that caused the panic attacks. Basically I stumbled upon the fact that every time I forced the issue, made myself challenge the syndrome, it would only reinforce the panic. 

So, yeah, I slowly weaned myself off the panic attacks by avoiding "the marketplace." I picked my shots. I forced myself to go to writer's group because that was important. I forced myself to go into Pegasus Books the first few times, because that was important. I forced myself to go to movies, (show up late, leave early, spend as much time in the dark as possible), because that was important.

I learned ways to cope. I liken it the way an adult illiterate must cope--getting others to read the signs, pretending to be without my glasses, whatever. I always found clever ways to get the stuff done that needed to be done. I would send actual strangers to the bank with my deposits. (Banks, stores, and restaurants were the worse triggers.) I would pick slow times of days. At the beginning of the panic attacks, I would venture out very late at night to do my grocery shopping. I was a little bit of a vampire, I guess. 

The best solution to my inability to operate in public was to have the public come to me. My own space, where I was in control, where I felt safe. Pegasus Books. 

It's complicated, because the panic attacks at first came along with a deep depression while I was a senior in high school which continued on through most of my 20's. I came out of the depression, but I really do remember those feelings and if they ever reoccurred, I'd go for help right away. Thankfully, by the time I was thirty, I was pretty much over it.

But the agoraphobia remained. I remember finally diagnosing it when I read an article. It became very clear to me that that was what it was. It was a relief to finally know. In a way, it helped me realize I wasn't crazy, that it was situational. (I have some anxiety, but probably no worse than most people.)

So it took probably way too long to get over my agoraphobia. Especially since it is one of those rare conditions that can actually be cured. Really, the way I got over it was by marrying a kind, calm, grounded woman who never pushed me. It turned out that I could go most places as long as I was with Linda. Then I discovered that a small dose of tranquilizer prior to a challenging event would help me through. I used alcohol for a long time, but that was often counterproductive and not usable during the day. (I no longer drink at all.)

It turns out that that small dose, so low that I wonder if it isn't more of a placebo, will get me through just about anything. I remind myself that the event isn't about me, usually, and I can just be there. The more success I had at not have a panic attack, the more success I had.

I believe that there were some weird benefits to it all. Because I was restricted in what I was willing to do, I could concentrate on the things I could do. I focused on the store and my writing, and I was extremely productive. I didn't have as many distractions as most "normal" people. 

I do feel that I probably got left out of a lot of social events because of my agoraphobia, but when the agoraphobia faded I also realized that I really do like being by myself for long periods of time. I really am an introvert, and there is nothing wrong with that. 

Anyway, I'm not ready to pronounce myself cured. I doubt I ever will be. The little demon of panic is always lurking, somewhere under the surface. I'll never be a YOLO kind of kind. I recognize that my emotional equilibrium is vulnerable. 

I'm extremely self-protective and probably closed in. But...I think I also open myself up to people I trust, and that's enough.

Friday, October 21, 2022

"Everyone can see you don't want to quit."

I'm going to start getting Social Security next month. I held off until 70 because, well, I could and because my income was so dinky for most of my career that it wouldn't have amounted to much if I'd started collecting sooner. 

I was talking about my retirement in the store and a customer said, "Everyone can see you don't want to quit."

Well...sure. I want to be actively engaged in something outside the house. I'm still really enjoying what I'm doing, more so perhaps than I ever have. Making money and having fun.

My "loner" formula for socialization is 70% Linda, 20% the store, and 10% everything else. The store may only be 20% of what I need not to feel useless, but it does need to happen. For me, isolation breeds isolation.  

I have to say, most of what I see in retirement doesn't interest me. Linda is perfectly fine with it, and more power to her and everyone else who is able to relax, but I feel totally at loose ends. I could start writing again, but that doesn't really fulfill the socialization part and I pretty much did that already. I don't golf, or fish, or pickle ball. Even traveling has limited appeal to me--it's exhausting and complicated.

But I still want a challenge in the "real" world.

I made a promise to Sabrina to sell her the store and I will fulfill that promise. I'm hoping she will keep me on board to continue ordering books and putting them away, but it will be her store and her decision. I won't regret it and I'm not looking back. I have to admit it will be nice not to have the constant pressure to earn enough money to make the store work. But I expect that I'll be just as anxious that it work for Sabrina.

Sabrina has stuck with me for 14 years or so. She deserves her chance, and if necessary, I'll get out of her way. Can I keep my suggestions to myself and my mouth shut? Linda kind of doubts it...and, I admit, so do I. But I do sometimes learn. It remains to be seen.

But I do have a backup plan. 

When I removed the used books from my store, I put them down in the basement. I already had a batch of overflow books from Linda's used bookstore, though most of that is probably junk. Whenever I get the chance to buy used books at a good price, I can't resist. 

So basically, I have the fixings for a used bookstore. I have many of the bookcases, a cash register, a couple of cabinets, and the nucleus of an inventory. 

I finally broke down and bought a storage shed, though it has yet to be assembled. So that's where all the fixings are going to be stored. 

My backup plan is that if I get too bored, I will open a little used bookstore in Redmond. It would have limited hours, maybe 12:00 to 5:00 Tuesday through Saturday. I would try to find another retired person or two to work the days I don't want to. If possible, I'd like to work no more than two days a week and also have enough time to go on trips. 

It wouldn't have to make much money. But it couldn't lose money. 

That's the trick, because I'm dubious of used bookstores' future. I think new bookstores are coming back, but used bookstores are struggling. 

Also, when I first started thinking about this, I was figuring that rent in Redmond would be cheap. Well, it's not only not cheap, but I think it's way out of proportion to how much money a Redmond business can make when rents are close to Bend rates.

I can't believe it, but I'm finally considering going online with my used books. One of the reasons I haven't done that before now (besides the fact that my store takes up all my time, as it should), is because I didn't think I had anything special. But I just bought a pretty cool collection of pulp magazines and tawdry cover paperbacks. Many are worth something on the "collector" market.

So I may have to finally knuckle down and figure it all out. That would probably be the factor that would make my opening a used bookstore in Redmond actually work. After all, I'd need the space to organize these books. 

I love the idea of starting a small store and turning it into something...again. I'm proud of Pegasus Books, because Linda and I did it with few resources and not a lot of help. I liked that I never had to depend on other people--the store either worked or it didn't work. 

Pegasus Books has filled its space and its potential. It can still grow, there will still be challenges and downturns, but overall, it is a mature going business. It's fun, but I wouldn't mind starting a new enterprise. 

Hey, you don't stop living after you hit 70. Until you do, of course.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Well, I'm in for now.

I'm working four days in a row and I'm exhausted. It's not just that I'm older, but we're also doing three times the business we were doing back in the day when I worked every day of the week. A prime example of "watch out what you wish for..." Then again, a thriving business is what I was striving for and it's very gratifying. 

Linda and I have a thing where I will point out that she might have taken on too much. She tends to say "Yes" to everything until eventually she starts showing signs of being overwhelmed. Whereas I'm very protective of my time and energy (being a bit of a loner) and can say "No" fairly readily.

Well, I'm seeing my situation right now as being a bit overwhelming.

The advice I constantly give in this blog to new business owners is this: treat time, energy, and space the same way you do money. Time, energy, and space ARE money, for all intents and purposes. Ignore this fact and you'll burn yourself out and wonder why.

I recently bought a comic collection with the intention of overhauling our back issue collection. However, I'm finding that the mere monetary cost of the transaction is the least part of it. Supplies are turning out to be almost equal in cost to the product, but it's the time, energy, and space that are being spent profligately. Even though I gave myself until the first of next year to get it done, I'm starting to feel the pressure of getting it done and getting it done right. 

And it wasn't really necessary. Yeah, it will probably help the store a little in the long run, which will be nice for Sabrina, but will it be worth cost? 

Well, I'm in for it now.