While on vacation in Denver a few weeks ago, someone suggested to my wife and me that we check out a great, independent book store that specializes in children’s books and resources for teachers. We ended up spending a good part of the afternoon at the store, and left with an armload of books. While there, I had a chance to speak with the founder and owner, Sue Lubeck.
- Show ID and Intro
- Interview with Sue Lubeck, founder and owner of The Bookies
- A new Podcast about children’s books, Just One More Book
- Soundseeing of the Fractured Fairy Tales section of the bookstore
Transcript of “Portrait – The Bookies”
Sue Lubeck: For somebody not to enjoy reading, something’s wrong, then they haven’t been exposed to what’s out there.
[Portrait theme music] Podcasting visual insound, this is another edition of Portrait on Electric Sky.
Mark Blevis: It started in the basement thirty years ago, and ten years later it outgrew the house. I’m your host, Mark Blevis, back from a summer holiday. On this edition of Portrait, Sue Lubeck, founder and owner of The Bookies, an independent bookstore in Denver, Colorado that specializes in children’s books and resources for teachers.
Sue Lubeck: It was really out of necessity because there weren’t many in Denver. I can remember really just one book, a children’s bookstore in Denver. So, we went to our local distributor and asked if we could buy books from him, discount them, and sell them. He said, “You can do anything you want to it once you get them.”
So, I brought them home and actually had a partner and she took some to her home, I took some to mine and after a year she said she didn’t want to work this hard and so she left, but I continued and then we contacted schools and showed them some of the books we had and would they be interested in book fairs and they were. For many years, we would fill as many as thirty-five tables in a school. It was lot of work but, again, a labour of love.
Then we decided once we got into computer that it was too labor intensive and it just didn’t work, but by that time, people had learned who we were and are and have been coming to our store and we will have in-house book parties as fundraisers for schools and churches and so forth.
We do things a little differently in our store and make it a little more user friendly in that as an example, the picture books of the different countries are all in by countries rather than just in picture books and in back we have the novels of the foreign countries, multi-culture, and they too are separated out by country. We also have that by periods in history starting in the very early history and then the novels that are all pertaining to each topic are in that section, which makes it very easy to find.
Mark Blevis: You’ve organized your entire collection with the mindset of a parent…
Sue Lubeck: Or the teacher. It’s extra work because a lot of these books are put in two sections. They may be put in just a literature section and that same book may also be pulled out and put into the Chinese section or novels, but it makes it much easier for everybody in the long run. We wish the days were longer and the space was bigger, but I guess in the book business, no matter how big it gets it’s never big enough.
Mark Blevis: Besides the book collection for children and for young readers, you have also a small adult section and a large reference section — resource section, for teachers and parents.
Sue Lubeck: Yeah. About half of our business is teachers and there some marvelous, marvelous teacher books coming out and we try to get them as quickly as they do come out. We have a very appreciative audience that comes in and who was here sometimes the day they arrive to get them “right now”.
Mark Blevis: Can you name some of your favourite unsung really good children’s authors that people do not know enough about?
Sue Lubeck: That’s kind of caught me off guard. But unsung… Jon Muth who just won the Caldecott is one of our favorite authors. He wrote Three Questions and to date we probably have sold about 1200 copies of this book because we love it. Everybody who seem to — in fact, we have one of our salespeople who always comes up and shows the book to a customer and hands her a piece of Kleenex at the same time because chances are she’ll need it.
Mark Blevis: What’s the best way to pick a book?
Sue Lubeck: I’m going to quote an Australian author, oh boy, Mem Fox…
Mark Blevis: Ah, yes!
Sue Lubeck: Who came in awhile ago and I will never forget this and she said, “First of all,” now they’re talking about pictures, children’s picture books, “The cover should appeal to you. You pick up the book because you want to from the cover. You should go through it five minutes, put it down and say, “wow!” If you’ve done that, it’s a good book.” We try to do that. We try to put ourselves in parents’ shoes and children’s shoes, and it has worked, it has worked. Unfortunately, sometimes we find some very beautiful illustrations with a story that’s kind of flat, or vice versa. And then, every once in a while there’ll be some books that everybody seems to just love. We cannot get enough of them. It’s interesting when you first start in business; you want to do this all yourself. You want to feel that you have started this and you’ve got this business rolling by yourself. So ,you do all the picking from your own thoughts. Then as you get more involved in this business and more mature, you will say to the rep, what do you think of it? You can even tell sometimes how a rep hands you the book. From body language, you can tell when he hands it to you almost how he feels about it. That doesn’t mean he’s always right or that we’re always right and we’ll always say to him, “Don’t let us pass up anything that you feel is good.” Because when we work with a rep, sometimes it’s two, three, four hours and by the end of it you don’t sometimes care what you are buying, but it’s very important. We’re very lucky to have reps come to us because then you get to hold the book in your hand. We seldom will buy a book unless we can hold it.
Mark Blevis: Do you think people still go to the bookstores and take the time to look at the books and pick them out effectively, or do you think people rush to the web and just pick something and order it?
Sue Lubeck: No, from what we have experience, people still come to us. Actually, we have some very, very gifted people in here. A lot of customers will have a favorite and they’ll ask for that person. But no, they want to know what they’re buying, they want to know what they’re buying and just as we want to know what we’re buying. And I think it’s important. It does mean that you have to create and have on hand a large inventory and we’re willing to do that. We take pride in our inventory. I think we’re the largest children’s bookstore in the country. Our teacher’s section is crowd jammed into this area, but it’s certainly among the best. There was a time when we would say, “Well, I don’t think we’re gonna sell that.” We do not say that anymore because chances are somewhere down the line somebody’s going to ask for that book. We just had a rep in today and there’s a beautiful Mandela book coming out, it’s $50. That’s always a dilemma because that’s a lot of money. When the rep said, “Well, they probably will run out of this and it’s gonna be sold internationally,” so I think we got four or five copies of it even though it’s expensive. You’re making judgments all day long. You’re learning from people. We learn from our customers and they learn from us. It’s kind of a two-way street.
Mark Blevis: When you started this thirty years ago, obviously you were doing this out of your home and in schools. What’s changed in thirty years in the publishing and retailing landscape?
Sue Lubeck: Well, one thing I remember people saying — they always look at the price when they first start, “Oh, I can’t pay…” what were hardback books back then maybe $10.95 that are now $16 or $17, people were more price conscious I think at that time. Now, they sell them– they might bring up a hardback book and say, “Do you know if this is coming in paper?” Chances are if it isn’t, they will say, “Well, I’ll just take this one.” Price is not nearly as important. We’re suggesting to people that they don’t give their children’s books away when they’re through with them because their children will want to have them, so save them, put them away. We also get – We’ve had very good luck in getting out of print books. I had one man who said — I don’t remember the title, it’s either dinosaur or dragon book. He said, “I really want it because it was my favorite as a child.” So, I called him one day and I said, “I’ve good news and bad news. I’ve found the book, but it’s $95 paperback.” He said, “I’ll take it.” He was absolutely thrilled. That’s a nice part of business, too, when we can bring these people and books together. It’s a very happy business. I look forward to each day and sometimes hate to see it end. So, I feel very fortunate to be involved in something like this where you can help people. You help teachers who help children. It’s kind of everybody is helping each other.
[Portrait theme music]
Mark Blevis: Show notes and links to resources discussed in this episode including a link to a new Podcast called “Just One More Book” can be found on my website, electricsky.net. While you’re there, be sure to check out my Podcast archives. The theme song for Portrait is Bigfoot by Robert Farrell. Electric Sky is a proud member of the Rogic Podcast Conglomerate. Thanks for listening and please stay subscribed.
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[Soundseeing of the Fractured Fairytales section of the bookstore]
Mark Blevis: So that’s another thing is fractured fairytales. My wife’s really good about this.
Sue Lubeck: Let me show you.
Mark Blevis: Al the, like — the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf ; oh, the three…
Sue Lubeck: That’s what started it. That’s the — what was the title? I can’t even think — the book about the — the wolf wasn’t such a bad guy, all he wanted to do was borrow a cup of sugar.
Mark Blevis: The True Story of — yeah…
Sue Lubeck: True Story! That started this whole genre and it is fabulous. I mean we have — let me show you a Cinderella book. Here, look at the Cinderella books. Now, it starts here, goes all the way over here. Look at the different countries involved.
Mark Blevis: Oh, look at that. Egyptian, Korean, Irish, Persian…
Sue Lubeck: And they are still coming. There are even more down here I think. Look here, still more Cinderella. Wild western Cinderella… Look at this! I didn’t even realize we got so many.
Mark Blevis: And people think that the real Cinderella story is the Disney version.
Sue Lubeck: Yeah, I know! Look at all the way here. All the way here and over here are your Cinderella…