Jim Lane is the 6thowner of the little book store called The Book Nook on Church Street in Kilmarnock. When he took it over 18 years ago, he was looking for a big change. That’s exactly what he got.
Before his time at The Book Nook, Lane was a studio potter, living in the middle of a forest in Richmond County. He wanted to live in a ‘community,’ drive less, and live among town members who supported each other. He’s happy to report that he walks or rides his bike to work every day now. There is seldom a customer that he doesn’t know. Most of his clients have been with him since he started, too, although he’s always making new friends.
While it’s primarily a book store with new and used books, he also sells greeting cards made by local artists. What’s been most surprising to him is that many of the stories don’t come from the pages of the books.
“It is a room full of stories, and it provokes people into their story-mind. They tend to look around and then tell me something really important. It’s very arresting. People feel comfortable here,” says Jim.
Many times he chats with customers about the book they’re purchasing or the person that they are shopping for. Occasionally, what is purchased is changed as a result of those conversations. Some are a one-shot deal while other customers come back to pick up where they left off and browse again.
Once you meet Jim, you’ll know why. The owner himself is a conversationalist, full of interesting and thought-provoking points. He’s friendly too. He’s quick to offer some of what he’s cooking in the back if he’s making lunch; or to offer you tea, coffee, or toys for the kids to play with, while you carry on in the sitting area. Even his kiln lives in the back of the shop so that he can assist other potters in firing and troubleshooting.
If for some reason, he isn’t there, the door is probably still open with a note that says he’ll be right back. It’s not uncommon for people to make an unattended purchase or leave a sack of books under the front ledge for resale or trading.
The shop itself is small and easily shoppable. Jim heavily curates the store, especially his used collection. He only displays about a quarter of his inventory. He revolves new items regularly, and if there’s a book that hasn’t moved, he returns it to his wholesaler. If a book looks shopworn, a customer can get a brand new copy within two days, or for a discount, to keep it moving.
And because of his relationship with his wholesaler, he also accepts returns no matter where they come from. As a result, he gets introduced to new titles and can still sell it or exchange it. The client gets a book that they are happy with, and a new relationship is formed.
“We don’t make problems here. That’s some else’s job,” says Jim.
Turning the Page
Jim is excited that there seems to be a swing back towards physical books. Like tools, there something to be said for engaging with the book, feeling the weight of it, and being able to turn the page. He adds that it’s also easier on your eyes to process reflective light rather than looking at a light source. Plus, books don’t need to be plugged in.
But in a physical sense, Jim has also taken his website down. He doesn’t have a digital presence at all other thanhis listing on our “Buck Stays Here” directory of local businesses. He said he simply didn’t have time to manage a virtual and physical location. Besides, online shopping is lonely, and he can do the ordering for his clients. His customers would rather have a personal experience instead of a digital transaction anyway.
He replies the same way when questions are raised about how he stands against big online retailers or digital technology. He doesn’t compete with them, nor does he want to. With policies like the ones that he has in place, it sounds like he doesn’t need to either. His flexibility and personal touch, are only a few of the examples of how much more significant your experience can be when you support your local businesses.
As for business
When asked what advice he’d give to another potential business owner, he generously provided a few nuggets. First, always give your clients your full attention. Never multitask. It’s degrading and diminishing. Second, if you’re going to be in the business world, you have to stay current and take risks. Finally, be willing to own what you don’t know. It will amaze you to see how many people in your community will be willing to rush in and give you a hand.