Did you know...I graduate from Biola University in just 3 days time? It is a pretty exciting accomplishment but there is one sad thing about it: my degree is not the one I wish I was graduating with. I graduate with a degree in Biblical Ministries (which I got with the intent of heading into youth ministry). Now, I plan to get my book published (and many books following that) and open a bookstore!
To help me on that journey (and because I lack a business degree), I will be doing my absolute best to find a job in a bookstore. It is my hope that I can learn from those already experienced in opening and running a bookstore so that in the future, I can do it myself. With that being the case, I spent some time looking around at bookstores while I was in Pennsylvania. After all, I'm moving to PA so why should I not start the job search as early as possible? Here are some of the bookstores I had the pleasure of checking out and the best and worst things about them!
Book Quality: The Doylestown/Lahaska Bookstore chain sells mostly full-priced books though my Dad did find a second-hand book (good quality) for $1 at the Doylestown location.
Price Range: My Dad did buy a book at the Doylestown Bookshop for only $1, however, the books there are, for the most part, more expensive than that. There are a number of books in the $15-$18 range and some books (generally non-fiction and fancier books) that were upwards of $20. The occasional paperback costs $7-$12 on their site.
Books: There are a ton of books at the Doylestown and Lahaska bookstores. I did see some popular YA novels there and took note of tables with themes (books by Black authors, "banned" books, and the like). This store has a lot more than just YA novels though. They also have children's, middle-grade, and adult novels as well as non-fiction, poetry, and cookbooks. The Doylestown location in particular had a ton of little gifts and things.
Activities: This bookstore likely has the most events of the bookstores I visited. From what I can tell of their online calendar, they have a ton of book clubs (many with virtual events). They also have author events (like Jane Carr and Jennifer Weiner). The Lahaska location also has a vintage sale that passed recently.
Locations: This is a small chain store (less than five locations). Both of their locations (Doylestown and Lahaska) are located in high-traffic areas which are well suited to the independent stores. I personally found the stores (Doylestown in particular) to have the feel of a big bookstore rather than a cute, independent bookstore with a community feel. This, I think, came from the size of the stores and the fact that there is more than one in the chain. The Doylestown store is located in central Doylestown and the Lahaska store can be found in Peddler's Village.
My Take: I expected to love the Doylestown Bookshop. Their site is reasonably easy to navigate, the pictures online showed well-organized shelves, and I was excited about the possibility of being involved in author events. However, when I got to the store all I could think was: "This is just like Barnes and Noble." I was not at the store for long and perhaps if I had spent more time there, I would have felt differently but in the short time I spent among the shelves of this bookstore, I felt no sense of community. It was nothing like the store I want to create someday.
Book Quality: Central Books is a used bookstore with books ranging in quality from pristine to little more than kindling.
Price Range: As you might expect (given that the store sells used books), Central Books' prices are much lower than that of other bookstores. They have a wide variety of prices including books for $2-$5 in pretty good if not an excellent condition, ratty books sold on the porch for $0.50 to $3, and other, good quality and potentially rare (or at minimum, with a higher retail price) for $10+
Books: There's quite a range of books here. While I was investigating the store, I saw children's, middle-grade, YA, and adult fiction. I also saw non-fiction in the category of history, religion, cookbooks, and more. The majority of books seemed to be non-fiction though there was a large selection of fiction books on the porch of the store. There were definitely more adult fiction books than young adult or younger. I saw nothing that particularly interested me.
Activities: I am unsure whether or not this bookstore does events. The site certainly doesn't advertise any events and, when I saw it, the store (including the porch and right next to the staircase was packed. There would be no room for attendees of such events.
Locations: The one thing that likely saves this store (aside from its low prices) is its location. Central Books is exactly where its name suggests it is: Central Doylestown. There are plenty of people there whether they be locals or visitors. It is such a cute area that even the disorganized store must draw some visitors. The outside of the store (barring the cluttered porch) is also beautiful being that the store is located in a lovely old home.
My Take: This was not the store for me. I love thrifted books and am constantly ordering from ThriftBooks but I also love organization. Now, granted, it must be difficult to stay on top of any bookstore, keeping it clean (I know how hard it is to do so with the pet store I currently work at). Thrift stores are often run by donation (or by buying books off of visitors) so they are getting their books from whatever random person decides to drop something off. That means they have boxes and boxes of books to price and organize. But does that mean they CAN'T be organized? I think not. There are also plenty of ways for them to get a better selection of books. I was entirely underwhelmed by this bookstore.
Book Quality: The Commonplace Reader has full-priced (thus, good quality) books. I didn't see any second-hand books though it is a possibility they had them. Like the Doylestown Bookshop, they also have some cutesy gifts for sale though a lot of these gifts have their mascot or color scheme on them. Some might dislike this but I find it brilliant. Their mascot (a mule named Franki) is adorable (and has history) and the owner's decision to sell products with the mule is a fantastic marketing solution.
Price Range: Most of the young adult books range from $10-$13 for a paperback and $15-$25 for a hardcover. While I was there, I bought three books (Little Thieves, These Violent Delights, and House of Salt and Sorrows). I spent over $50 and then received an advanced reader's copy of One Bronze Knuckle for doing so which I think is pretty cool (they have many ARCs to choose from). I also was given bookmarks, a sticker, and a book magazine in my bag.
Books: As I noted, I bought three AMAZING young adult books while I was in the store. The Commonplace Reader's young adult selection is very up to date and includes all kinds of books I love including Marissa Meyer's novels, The Merciful Crow, the Grishaverse books, and more. The store has a much larger selection of books, though. They also have adult fiction, middle-grade books, and non-fiction including political science and history. From what I can tell online, their "juvenile fiction" is the largest section. Their store, while small, also feels organized with many of the non-fiction books upstairs and plenty of fiction downstairs. The store used to be a house and they take advantage of that by organizing the rooms with different subjects and age levels.
Activities: When visiting the Commonplace Reader, you might think this bookstore (located in a house) doesn't have space for activities. While their store is well-organized with plenty of space to move around, they don't have any wide open spaces to host author events inside. However, the store has a huge selection of events to attend (many located on their porch) including book clubs for nearly every genre, book signings, and local author events.
Locations: The Commonplace Reader has only one location: in Yardley, PA. The store doesn't seem super centrally located but, in the case of this stunning, organized bookstore, they don't need the extra publicity that being located in a central area brings. The store (as I mentioned) is in a two-story house with a porch (where many events occur) and a gorgeous sign out front (highlighting Franki the Mule). Their rooms are smaller than many stores but larger in number and the store makes good use of them to organize the books. There is plenty of room to move around, browsing but the space remains cozy and the store has that community-independent-bookstore feel I'm looking for.
My Take: You can probably tell from my raving reviews but the Commonplace Reader was my favorite of all the bookstores we visited. It is not exactly what I want my future bookstore to look like but it has the same atmosphere, plethora of books, and well-organized shelves that I someday want to incorporate into my own store.
I didn't spend much time at BAM, a chain bookstore on the east coast, but from what I saw, the store mostly sells high-quality fiction books (full-price) and gifts just like any Barnes and Noble you might visit. My visit to BAM was unplanned (I simply saw it in a mall) and I already knew it wasn't the independent bookstore I was trying to find a job at so I spent very little time here and didn't move past the first few rows of books. As you would expect, Books A Million has a great website, hundred of books (many fiction and plenty YA), and prices similar to Barnes and Noble. The one thing of note that happened in the store was my sight of "Mirror Girls." The book sounded interesting so I took a picture of it to remind myself to add it to my mile-long "to-read" list.
Book Quality: JaZams is actually not a bookstore (or at least, not only a bookstore). The store, which I ran into on my visit to Peddler's Village is a toy and book store and it seemed to me that their focus was on the toys rather than the books. That being said, they do have a good collection of young adult, full-priced books.
Price Range: Determining the price range for a toy and book store is slightly more complicated but for the most part, the prices at jaZams seem to be around the same range as they are at the other full-priced bookstores I've recognized today. The store also sells a huge range of toys for a huge range of prices.
Books: For a toy and bookstore, jaZams has a lot more books than I might expect it to have (at least, it does on its site). The store seems to focus on children's, young adult, and middle-grade books though they do have cookbooks, classics, and poetry as well as other books including ones that may be counted as "toys" (ie. coloring books and activity books).
Activities: Does a toy store even need activities? The toys in the store certainly seem to draw in customers the way activities like book clubs and author events do in other bookstores. The store potentially has activities though because of its location in Peddler's Village where the stores often join together in activities for the month's theme. The well-put-together site also advertises its products in a season-specific way (for example, currently easter toys and crafts are being advertised.)
Locations: jaZams is actually located in two places. Unlike the Doylestown/Lahaska bookshop, I did not have the chance to visit both of these locations. I saw jaZams in Peddler's Village my last day there. The store does seem like it has more of a community-small store feel than the Doylestown Bookshop, perhaps because it is located in Peddler's Village, surrounded by other small, independent stores (all of them awesome!) I know very little about the New Jersey location of the store but the Peddler's Village location serves the store well and gives it the feel I am looking for.
My Take: I didn't get a lot of chance to check out jaZams. I found the store at the end of my last day in Pennsylvania. My family was about to leave Peddler's Village when I caught a glimpse of the sign in the window advertising "help needed." I immediately went in to ask about the job and received an application (a blank paper bag I could decorate any way I wanted). I am still pursuing the opportunity. While there, I saw a cute and popular bookstore/toy store that fit my needs exactly. It could certainly be the next step in my journey toward opening a bookstore. Its location in the scenic and interesting Peddler's Village doesn't hurt!