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Book dealers serve up used, rare and well-done books. (market buzz).

In Walter Mosley's novel Fearless Jones, the protagonist Paris Minton is the owner of a small, used bookstore in South Central Los Angeles who stocks his shelves with castoffs from local libraries. When the store is destroyed, it serves as a catalyst for the story. "That bookstore was what made me somebody rather than just anybody," says the character. "Burning down my store was the same as shooting me, and somebody would have to make restitution for that crime."

But while truth is usually not stranger than fiction, in the case of Cynthia Parker of Treasurebooks in Silver Spring, Maryland, it is oddly familiar. Like Paris Minton, her love affair with books began at an early age. "I've been a bookaholic since I learned to read at age four. My ultimate dream was to one day own a bookstore," says Parker. "It came true."

For the past ten years, Parker has operated Treasurebooks as one of three book dealers (the only African American) in a cooperative store called Silver Spring Books. "We all have full-time jobs and share the space in a nice storefront in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland. We share the expenses, and each spends a day or two selling in the shop. The wonderful thing about this arrangement is that we have an extraordinary, eclectic selection of used and collectible books. We all love searching for and finding books," she says. "We live to share our passion with other booklovers."

At a time when independent booksellers dealing in new books are struggling, the number of used bookstores is on the rise. According to Susan Siegel, copublisher of Book Hunter Press (www.bookhunter press.com), there are more than 7,000 used, out-of-print and antiquarian booksellers in the United States and Canada. Used Book Lover's Guide published by Siegel and her husband, is a seven-volume comprehensive regional listing of used bookstores.

The cost of new books, a growing interest in book collecting, baby boomer nostalgia, dwindling publisher backlist inventory and the Internet are among many factors that account for the increase in the number of used bookstores, says Siegel. "In addition, consumers, with more leisure time to devote to their hobbies, are always on the look out for out-of-print and hard-to-find books dealing with their special interests," she says.

While there are many booksellers who specialize in African-American books, Siegel is uncertain exactly how many of those used bookstores listed in the guides are black owned. Not surprisingly, African-American used bookstores are as rare as the inventory they carry. There are handfuls of stores scattered throughout the country. And unlike the many African-American booksellers who deal exclusively in new books by black authors and about black culture, used booksellers carry a variety of books on many subjects. Their inventories include works by non-African-American authors. And while no two bookstores are alike, used book dealers share one common trait: almost all are unabashed bibliophiles.

How does one translate a love of books into owning a used bookstore? "You begin by looking for things you can't find in a new bookstore," says Sheridan Settler of Cross Street Books in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which specializes in African-American literature, history, science and technology, science fiction and art books. "You start looking for books for other people, you begin to accumulate books, and the next thing you know, you're in the business," adds another bookseller.

As an English teacher, Louise Brimmer has always been a book person. She started her first used bookstore in Utica, New York, where she would go to library sales and purchase books for a nickel each or for one dollar a bag. There, African-American books were few and far between, and students at Utica College from New York City hungered for them. "I began by selling or giving the books to students."

When Brimmer moved to Alabama with her husband, who is in the military, she opened a used bookstore there. Since the mid-1990s, she has run Brimmer Books in the London Bridge Shopping Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The store carries 15,000 titles, including African-American literature, children's books, and Virginia and Civil War history. "My store is the type of old-fashioned used bookstore with tons of books, real books not paperbacks. It has the smell and the atmosphere that says to people "Book Lovers Here," says Brimmer.

While the Internet has had an adverse impact on independent stores that sell new books, used bookstores have been able to augment their sales on the Internet. Brimmer believes the Net is just one sales tool. "Even though a large percentage of my business is from the Internet, having an open store is important because people bring in many books to sell and some just to give away.

Treasurebooks' Cynthia Parker, however, uses the Internet in a different way. Parker does not have a website or list her books with an online service. But she does occasionally sell books through a free, informal network of sellers called "Book Store Junkies." Readers join the listserve and request the titles they want. Book Store Junkies' members search for the title, and if a member has the book, then they contact the interested buyer and arrange the transaction.

Dealers are often relentless in their pursuit of "a find." They often arrive at major sales "the night before, to be there when the doors open at 10 a.m.," says one dealer. "People will literally take books out of your hands if you let them." First editions by Paul Laurence Dunbar, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and Richard Wright are among the "hot items." Louise Brimmer is particularly proud of her acquisition of a first edition of George Lamming's 1953 work, In the Castle of My Skin that includes an introduction by Richard Wright. While there is money to be made in collectibles and antiquarian books, high-end titles that go for $500 and more Brimmer says, "I will never get rich selling used books. But I will and do have a rich and rewarding life.
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Article Details
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Author:Osborne, Gwendolyn E.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2002
Words:999
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