Sunday, December 4, 2016

Bob's Used Books - Charleston, IL

Bob's Used Books, Charleston, IL
(Like The Indie Bob Spot on Facebook and follow The Indie Bob Spot on Twitter)

So, what does a bookstore owner do after he/she sells their bookstore?  Why, buy another bookstore of course!  That's exactly what Joe and Lisa J. did.  Joe was the owner of the legendary and long-running Myopic Books in Chicago (no, I haven't been there yet, it's on my list).  He and his wife decided to leave Chicago and settle in Charleston, IL, a small college town in east central Illinois.  But this town was missing the one thing ALL small towns need, an independent bookstore.  With Joe's experience and knowledge in the business, it was a no-brainer for he and his wife to give Charleston an independent bookstore.

Bob's is a one-level bookstore with a great corner location on the downtown square.  They've only been open for a year and a half and things are going well.  The store offers all used books with the exception of some new books by local authors.  The store doesn't offer any sidelines but what they do have is a very active events schedule.  Used book stores don't always have many events but that's not true of Bob's.  On Monday night, drop in and play some chess.  On Wednesdays, come in and participate in open mic night where just about anything goes.  Or come in on Saturday night for music improv night.  You don't have to read music or bring an instrument, Bob's will have you covered.  And as if this isn't enough, they also host author events and readings.  On Halloween, you can bring the kids by for a free children's books (your dentist will thank you).  I think this would be a great idea for other indies.  All creative ideas to bring people into the store.

Joe and Lisa don't have to look for books because the books come to them.  They offer cash or store credit and also receive donated books.  If you're looking for romance, westerns, or text books, don't come here (ok that's extreme, come here but look for other genres).  If you're looking for a well-organized store with a  breadth of inventory, this is the place. They also do business on their website which amounts to about one-quarter of their revenue, an important portion for their margin.  The store draws largely local customers, including from the local college community.  They also have customers from as far away as Terre Haute and Effingham, towns without an independent bookstore.  Whoever visits will enjoy free parking right on the street.

But my biggest question is, who the heck is Bob?  Joe's the owner, he's not Bob.  Bob is Joe's dad who can walk into the store anytime, pick up some books, and say, "This is MY store!"  Take it from me, Bob has a GREAT store.  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir.

JUST FINISHED:  Blood Brothers, Ernst Haffner.  Written by this German author and originally released in 1932, this is about gangs of 15-19 year old boys in Berlin  during the 1930s and their struggle to simply survive.  The book was banned by the Nazis and burned.  This translation was recently released in 2015. The book is a work of fiction but you can imagine there is a lot of truth in this story.  This is the author's only known and surviving work.  Highly recommended.

Night Of The Animals, Bill Broun.  Story takes place in the not too distant future in London where an old homeless man hear's animal's voices in his head.  These voices are the only animals left in the world and are in the London Zoo.  They're asking him to set them free.  Too verbose, too much English vocab which didn't give the book any kind of flow as far as I was concerned.  Didn't like this at all.    

CURRENTLY READING:  Old Age, A Beginner's Guide, Michael Kinsley.  

RECENTLY PURCHASED:  The Man With The Golden Arm, Nelson Algren.  Father And Son, Larry Brown.  


Another exterior view.  Conscientious readers may recognize the celebrity browsing the book table.  Yes, that's my mom.    

Before you enter the store, glance over your shoulder at this beautiful government building on the center of the square.  

Man, this would look good on my front porch!

How often can you browse books outside an Illinois indie on a late November day?!

One of the display windows with a great arch made out of books.  

View looking straight through the store from the front entrance.  

Looking to the right from the front entrance.  

Check out some of the table displays of recent arrivals, just inside the front entrance.  

Have a seat by this cat and try out a book.  

This is one of the tables where you can enjoy a game of chess.  

A great place to sit and sample a book.  


Amazon does not offer a bathroom.  

Lots of genres to choose from.  Something for everyone.  

Step into this room to find a page-turner.  


You can find lots of ideas here for holiday gifts.  

Head up the stairway to the balcony in the back of the store for more selections.  

A very comfortable room in the balcony.  

View from the balcony looking toward the front of the store.  

Little chairs for little readers, upstairs.  

Another view looking down on the main floor.  

A portion of the children's section.  


With Joe on the left and Lisa in the center, the fine owners at Bob's Used Books.  Thanks for a great visit.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Bison Books - Winnipeg, MB, Canada

Bison Books, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
(Like The Indie Bob Spot on Facebook and follow The Indie Bob Spot on Twitter)

If you want to learn about Canada, Winnipeg, and the antiquarian book scene, Aimee P., the owner at Bison Books is the person to see.  She knows her stuff and if she doesn't have the answer she can find it through her various personal contacts and her skill at online research.  She shared with me that 100 years ago Winnipeg was happening and THE place to be.  Lots of money, affluence, and people who built large houses and needed to fill them.  That included books.  Fast forward to today and an antiquarian and used book store where you can find some of those books from a century ago.  A perfect match to go with its well-informed and knowledgeable owner.

If you're a collector of vintage books, this place is a destination.  Bison Books has a good offering of these collectables and Aimee is always looking to add to her inventory.  The store is a medium-sized one-level located on the Graham Mall of downtown Winnipeg.  It differs from most general independent bookstores in that you'll find no sidelines here.  What you will find is a well-organized, neat store that has enough space to enjoy browsing.  As you might expect, among the used books you'll find lots of titles of local interest, history, and authors.  I especially liked the section of fiction by Canadian authors.  It was also nice to see a good assortment of piano sheet music.  Aimee doesn't have to pursue her used books too hard.  Most of them come into the store and she offers customers a fair price if she's interested.

I hope when you visit here you have the same luck I did.  Not only did I meet Aimee, I also met Jim A., another antiquarian bookseller.  You can find his books for sale here at Bison Books as well.  Both of these people are great to talk to and you'll enjoy meeting and talking to either one of them.  I'm always appreciative during my visits when I get to see these people and they take time to tell me a bit about the store.  If you drive here, look for public parking behind the store.

If vintage books aren't your thing, maybe you'd be interested in antiques or art.  You know who to talk to?  Aimee works with that business too.  You now have all kinds of reasons to visit Bison Books.  A great bookstore with a terrific owner.  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir.

JUST FINISHED:  Whistling Past The Graveyard, Susan Crandall.  Starla, a 9-year old white girl and Eula, a black woman form an unlikely bond in 1963 Mississippi.   Starla is on a journey to find her mother and she finds out along the journey the challenges of prejudice and racism of the times.  We could all use Starla's insight about these social issues today.  Outstanding.  Highly recommended.  

CURRENTLY READING:  Blood Brothers, Ernst Haffner.

RECENTLY PURCHASED:  The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields.


Another exterior view.  

I've seen lots of great exterior building murals across the country, oops, I mean NORTH AMERICA.  This is as good as any.   


View looking into the store from the front entrance.  


You'll find vintage books in this display case as well as other areas of the store.  

Lots of wonderful book inventory in these aisles.  

Have a seat and sample a book.  

Another area to find collectables.  

Have a seat and decide what book to get.  

Many used bookstores have hard wood floors.  Here they have carpeting and beautiful area rugs like this one.  

You'll find lots of local history here.  

If I didn't buy so many books on my journey I would be able to buy some piano music.  

View from the back of the store looking toward the front entrance.  

Where else can you find a 1913 Britannica Yearbook?!


Another overview of the store looking out through the huge front windows onto the street.  



Jim A. on the left and Aimee on the right trade bookselling tips.  Both of these people are great to talk to.  
Find Jim's books in this area of the store.  
With Aimee on the left, the fine owner at Bison Books.  Thanks for a great visit.  

Friday, November 18, 2016

McNally Robinson Booksellers - Winnipeg, MB Canada

McNally Robinson Booksellers, Winnipeg, MB Canada
(Like The Indie Bob Spot on Facebook and follow The Indie Bob Spot on Twitter)

Whatever I write in this brief blurb will not come close to conveying to you the totality of this incredible bookstore.  This is my first visit to a Canadian bookstore and this one claims to be the largest and best.  Without seeing any of the others, I would say yes and yes.  If this store were in the US, it would compare favorably with the top tier stores like Tattered Cover in Denver, Powell's in Portland, and Vroman's in Pasadena, just to name a few .  After entering here and when I was finally able to close my dropped jaw and bugged out eyes, my only disappointment was not finding the kitchen sink since they have everything else.

Obviously, this is not your typical small-operation neighborhood bookstore.  McNally Robinson has been around for about 35 years and in its present location in the Grant Park Mall for about 20 years.  The staff consists of over 200 employees at two locations, here and Saskatoon.  In addition to an extensive inventory of books you can find all variety of sidelines.  Music on vinyl and CDs, ukuleles, unique hats of all kinds, accessories for women including jewelry, anything for kids including clothes for toddlers, locally created items, and much, much more.  After you get that ukulele, sign up for an in-store class for lessons.  As co-owner Chris H. told me, don't put all your bookstore eggs in one basket, meaning it's important to have a diverse inventory and offer more than just books.  There's a spacious restaurant/cafe in the store called Prairie Ink where you can get anything from a coffee and pastry to a light lunch.

I was especially impressed by the number of classes offered and held in the store.  Everything from the Russian revolution to any kind of art, foreign languages, movies, wine, music, and books.  Heck, I've seen skinnier course offerings at some community colleges (just indulge my exaggeration!).  They also offer a self-publishing service for aspiring authors.  

Before visiting here, I was resigned to the fact that I probably wouldn't get to meet the owner.  Imagine my surprise to not only meet Chris but enjoy a great visit with him.  He's been with McNally Robinson for about 20 years so the recent transition in ownership from the McNallys to Chris was fairly seamless.  Like many US indies, he's seeing steady business growth which I think is very encouraging.  Part of the success here was the McNallys' foresight to include more than just books in the business model.

I wish I could give you a better overview of this spectacular bookstore.  But since I can't, you'll have to visit.  And if you're in Winnipeg, this is a 5-star leader in the industry that is a required visit, over and over again!  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir.

JUST FINISHED:  Civilwarland In Bad Decline, George Saunders.  Collection of short stories and a novella.  This author has a definite style.  Very witty and humorous, at times dark, try a few of these short stories to decide if you want more.  Recommended.  

CURRENTLY READING:  Whistling Past The Graveyard, Susan Crandall.


Another exterior view.  This place is so huge I couldn't even get the whole store front in this picture.  

One of the exterior window displays.  



View looking into the store from the front entrance.  

Looking to the left from the front entrance.  Lots of adorable clothes for toddlers in the foreground.  The stairway on the right leads upstairs to the children's section.  

Looking to the right from the front entrance.  


Classes are offered in the store and their is something for all interests.  

Toddler clothes.  Eventually, there will be ice cream and ketchup on the tie.  


A great display of some of the new fiction available.  

Aspiring authors should inquire about publishing their work here.  

Lots of stuff for babies.  

This is just a portion of the regional offerings.  

Hockey fans will definitely find something here.  

An attractive check-out area and lots of authors pictured above who have appeared here.  

Locally crafted sidelines.   

An overview of the music area.  

A great area to lounge in and try out a book.  This space is also where many events are hosted.  


These must be really good.  I got to the store early and they were already out!


This is a ukulele tree.  

The sidelines offered here are endless.  

A fraction of the book area.  

If you're in the Winnipeg area, you should sign up for a class.  


If you're on a budget, there are lots of books to choose from in this area.  


A nice table display of non-fiction.  

LOTS of magazines to pick from.  

Don't miss a chance to visit this wonderful restaurant, right in the store.  

Go ahead, don't hold back.  


Looking into the spacious Prairie Ink restaurant.  This space is beautiful.  

View looking down toward the front entrance from the upstairs children's section.  



A portion of the extensive children's section, upstairs on the 2nd floor.  


Watch your kids.  

With Chris H. on the left, the fine co-owner at McNally & Robinson.  Thanks for a great visit.