Interview With The Old Bookshop Of Bordentown

The Old BookShop Of Bordentown is the 8th stop on my Independent Book Store tour. In an effort to bring awareness of how vital these places are, I’m interviewing the great folks who manage them.

Located in historic Bordentown City in central New Jersey, The Old Bookshop of Bordentown are purveyors of out of print and antiquarian books. They have titles that cater to history buffs, sports and erotica fans, aspiring thespians, gardeners and religious folk.

But wait, there’s more!

Their inventory also includes fantasy titles like Eragon, George R. R. Martin’s epic saga Game of Thrones as well as Manga, mysteries, an expanding entertainment section and a children’s room. It’s bookworm heaven!

Don’t worry if your book budget is limited, the Old Bookshop has many discounted titles, some as low as a $1.00. (FYI: if you check out their Facebook page you may find even more savings.)

Their doors are open Wednesday through Saturday from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm and Sunday from  12:00 pm  to 4:00 pm.

Doug, the owner of The Old Bookshop Of Bordentown, was kind enough to answer a few questions about his store and the value it adds to his community of readers. 

Hi, Doug, welcome to Angel Kiss Publications. Thank you for agreeing to do this interview.

Thank you for having me.

What motivated you to open (or work at) an Independent Book Store?

I’ve been a book collector since I was about 14 years old. After spending a career on Wall Street and with a large amount of books, many in storage, I began to consign material to a cooperative shop in the late 1990s.

Once I got fed up with commuting to New York City from the Princeton, NJ area and decided I’d rather watch my two little sons grow up, we opened a shop in Freehold, NJ.

The bookselling trade is rewarding in ways other than financial (it’s not particularly remunerative).

I like to think, however, that we’re providing a valuable service–books give people pleasure, knowledge, sometimes comfort, and help to expand horizons.

Can you tell us a little about Old Bookshop Of Bordentown?

The Old Book Shop of Bordentown is a general used and out-of-print bookstore with vintage and rare editions as well. Most of the stock on our shelves is priced under $10 (though we also carry material that runs into the thousands of dollars).

We sub-specialize in New Jersey books (naturally) and have the largest section of New Jersey titles in the state. We carry general history, American history (American Revolution, Civil War and WWII), fiction and literature (geared more toward the classic authors like Austen, Hemingway, Virgina Woolf, Tolkein, etc).

We also have sections on art, architecture, music, theater, movie and TV, cooking, antiques, etc.

There are some 10,000 books on our open shelves and we also have an online inventory of some 9,000 titles.

What’s involved with running an independent bookstore?

Nowadays a small independent operating in a brick-and mortar open location has to be in a place where the cost of location operation is low enough to stay in business. This is very difficult in New Jersey.

In order to pay the rent, one usually gives up any significant walking traffic. For example, if I were in Princeton where there is a large walking population during the days and evening, my rent would be 5 to 10 times what it is here—and I’d be out of business within 90 days.

Acquisition of inventory is also a critical issue—what do you carry and from where do you get it?

We don’t buy inventory directly from publishers or from overstock houses (except for a few very local history titles). We can’t compete with Barnes and Noble in terms of prices or customer volume on that material.

We buy from individuals (people who are moving, down-sizing), estates, historical societies or libraries who are deaccessioning material, etc. One big advantage to having an open shop is that you get buying opportunities that you would not otherwise.

As with any such business, it’s always a bit of a guessing game — hopefully what we buy will interest our customers. Sometimes it is and sometimes we have things in inventory for years.

Is competition with online retailers difficult?

Competition with other online retailers is always an issue. Certain ones, Amazon particularly but eBay as well, are a headlong dive to the bottom of the barrel. Anyone with a cardboard box of books in their garage and a computer can be a “bookseller”.

That hugely increases supply and buyers on these sites usually are looking for the cheapest possible item—and they’re often disappointed with the actual item when it arrives (or so a number of customers have always told me). They are the world’s low-end yard sales.

How do small bookstores compete with Amazon and Barnes & Noble?

All that having been said, you have to deal with the devil. We sell on Amazon and it in fact makes up a significant percentage of our monthly revenues. We get a greater number of orders through them than through any other sales channel, but the orders are also almost always for lower priced items—and there is absolutely zero customer loyalty as they are hysterical about keeping sellers and buyers from communicating directly.

Barnes & Noble is not a competitive factor for us as we don’t deal in new books. We’re signed up as vendors for out of print stuff with them but rarely get an order.

Barnes & Noble is not a competitive factor for us as we don’t deal in new books. We’re signed up as vendors for out of print stuff with them but rarely get an order.

What makes your store unique?

We try to offer a bit of everything so that folks who come in can hopefully find things they didn’t know they wanted when they came in.

We also have a whole room full of books for children and young adults—everything from baby picture books to Nancy Drew, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and even more mature titles for teens.

I feel strongly about getting books into the hands of children at an early age—that’s what my mom did with me and my sister when we were little. 

What are your biggest sellers?

Our single biggest seller over the years since we’ve been here has been the Harry Potter series. We sell the hardcovers for around $7 and the paperbacks for around $3.

J. K. Rowling has, in my opinion, done more to advance literacy than anyone else in the last half-century.

We sell lots of New Jersey books—Pine Barrens and Jersey Devil stuff is popular given our geographic location. American history is a good seller as well.

In terms of adult fiction and literature, our steady sellers have been Jane Austen, Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, J. R. R. Tolkien and more recently Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin and Chuck Palahniuk.

There’s always a run on books with current TV and movie tie-ins like Game of Thrones.

Do you have promotions throughout the year?

Not really. We coordinate more with the big events here in Bordentown: the Cranberry Festival in October, the Holiday Chocolate Walk and the Valentine’s Day Chocolate Walk. Those events provide us with a ready-made crowd.

Do you have author book signings?

We’re too small to do it effectively. The only exception is for local authors that put out local history books or general interest things—we have two local authors who have published children’s books and we’ve had signings with them. We schedule those sessions during the bigger two events as mentioned above so they get good exposure.

What advice would you give to authors just starting out?

Don’t give up your day jobs.

The current publishing environment is extremely competitive as writers have many more venues than just traditional hard-copy publishers.

Yes, it’s easier to get your stuff out there via the innumerable online venues but it’s incredibly difficult to actually get eyeballs on your work.

And if you want to get an authentic following, don’t write books about growing up, issues with your parents/siblings/spouses, or your views on the cosmos, or poetry.

Write something that may be unique, write local history, develop and write children’s book characters.  In terms of fiction, try young adult and have a plan for books two, three and more in case you catch lightning in a bottle. Then you might have a shot.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you and your store?

The same thing I say to consumers about all small local businesses: “Use ‘em or lose ‘em”.

We welcome everyone to come in and browse, poke around the shelves, try something new or just pick up a copy of an old friend. Just picking up a $2 or $3 paperback or hardcover helps pay the rent and keep us open.

Want to read The Great Gatsby (another of our most steady sellers)? Try finding a paperback copy at B&N for less than $15. We sell them for $3 or $4.

What are some of your favorite books/authors?

I enjoy historical mysteries set in the Middle Ages, the Victorian Era, and the colonial period, so we usually have a good selection of those.

I’ve also been a Sherlock Holmes fan since I was a teenager, so we have a nice selection of that material.

My favorite 20th century American author is John Steinbeck (I think The Grapes of Wrath was the greatest 20th c. American novel) so we have lots of his books.

Do you have a website/Facebook page, etc?

Our website is and on Facebook find us as Old Book Shop of Bordentown.

Thank you, Doug, for spending time with us and sharing your story. We wish you and the Old Bookshop of Bordentown continued success and lots of luck!