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Giving Extra

Small bookstore owners say they can offer better service

September 19, 2010
By MIKE ZUMMO, The Leader-Herald

Most malls have a big-box bookstore and the Internet's tentacles can reach into nearly every home. Books themselves are even being downloaded into portable electronic devices.

However, local independent bookstore owners say they can offer one thing the Internet and the big-box stores can't: personal service.

"I handpick every book," said Priscilla Mitchell, owner of Mysteries on Main Street in Johnstown. "It's not just what a corporation says to buy. We remember what our customers like. We might see a book for a certain customer, or we remember the authors different people read. We make sure to get those books."

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

Priscilla Mitchell, owner of Mysteries on Main Street in Johnstown, places books on the shelf for sale at her store on Tuesday.

Dale West, the owner of Fisherman's Supply Christian Bookstore, also in Johnstown, agreed.

"You get to know the people and they get to know you," he said. "In the larger store, you're dealing with many people. So oftentimes, you don't have that connection."

Mitchell said she works hard to make Mysteries on Main Street, which has been open for 19 years, a vital part of the community. She also said she works closely with area teachers who submit their summer reading lists and she makes sure she has copies of those books in stock.

The store also has an "Adirondack Room," where patrons can sit and look at the books, and she also tries to feature local authors as often as possible.

"When the customers come in, they want to feel comfortable that this is more or less their home and enjoy their time," Mitchell said. "Part of my job is to make people feel comfortable."

Recently, the Glove Cities got another bookstore when Buy the Book opened on East Main Street in Johnstown about three weeks ago.

The store, which offers new, used and collectible books, held a grand-opening book signing with local author Chase Montana, who signed his book "How Big is One."

Mysteries also has events for children and book signings by local authors and more nationally known writers, such as science-fiction and fantasy writer R.A. Salvatore, who visited Oct. 29, 2009.

Mitchell said the process of bringing in a well-known author is long, but rewarding. Agents, she said, look at how the event will be marketed and try to gauge how many potential people will show up. The more books sold, she said, the more likely a store is to get another big-name author.

"If we get good people and have a good showing, then it's easier to get good authors," she said.

Fisherman's Supply, which has been in business for nearly 40 years, caters to a more specific audience as a Christian bookstore, so West said he does other things and travels out of the area to supplement the store's business.

"Everybody has to do other things to supplement their business, so we do institutional business," West said. "[We work with] Sunday school and vacation Bible school. We emphasize working with those people on a regular basis."

However, just because they're small and independent, it doesn't mean local bookstores are staying away from the Internet and the conveniences that it offers consumers.

Mitchell said Mysteries on Main Street has its own website - - and through it, customers can order books, send e-mails to store employees and order books to be picked up. Mysteries also delivers in the Glove Cities areas.

"People can use our site to search just like or Barnes & Nobles," she said. "They can do the same thing on our website."

West said Fisherman's Supply doesn't have an active website right now, but he is hoping to develop one. He said a site can be beneficial as a supplement to the store as a way to introduce new products that he may or may not want to carry, based on the customers' interest. He said a store may be able to carry only a single copy of an item if only one person expresses interest online.

"If you're dealing with a website and you have a local store and you can pick it up in the store and save shipping," he said. "That's not a minor thing right there. That's a real service to people."

However, on the local level, it's still the physical location that drives business, and it serves as not only a place to buy books, but sometimes an information center.

"We're a mainstay in the community," Mitchell said. "Sometimes, people even come into the bookstore and ask for directions."



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