Ocean City's Bookateria Survives in an E-World
For 35 years, Bookateria has been selling and trading used paperbacks.
The Thornbirds, a sweeping epic that captured the nation's attention in 1977, affected readers in many ways. To Catholics, the tale of a priest who broke his vows evoked feelings of dismay. To others, the emotional story of a large Australian clan and its tragedies was reminiscent of the Kennedys, an American family that has endured more than its share of misfortune.
To Woody Robinson at The Bookateria Two, The Thornbirds provided heartbreak of another kind. His store at the corner of 11th Street and Asbury Avenue specializes in trading and selling used paperbacks. And all people wanted in 1983, after the family saga proved to be the second highest-rated television mini-series ever and a boost to the careers of relative newcomers Rachel Ward and Mare Winningham, was The Thornbirds.
"Everyone was reading The Thornbirds one summer," says Robinson, who is celebrating the 35th anniversary of The Bookateria Two this year. "I couldn't keep used books in stock. I figured I should carry some best-sellers and started selling some new books, so I wouldn't send people away."
Unlike other booksellers, he still isn't turning them away. Following a summer in which Borders bookstores across the country closed and five Atlantic Books stores at the Jersey Shore announced their imminent departure, The Bookateria Two continues to survive by offering discounted prices on both used and new books.
Robinson knows he caters to a dwindling crowd: Readers of the printed word.
"A lot of my customers have Kindles, and that solves the problem of taking four books when you're traveling," he says. "But it's costly to buy e-books at $10 to $20 each. A lot of classic books are free on Kindle, but many people have already read them. Current or newer authors are cheaper to buy used."
Also, Robinson points out, e-readers are impractical on the beach, where sand is the enemy of technological devices. So is salt water, so forget about sitting in the edge of the ocean with an e-reader. One rogue wave and the e-reader is ruined, whereas a paperback will eventually dry out.
"You can't take a Kindle to the beach," Robinson says. "That may be the salvation of the printed word."
That, and the fact that loaning a Kindle is more problematic than passing on a book. "One of the greatest things about books is that you can share them," Robinson says. "You can discuss them and recommend them to others. Sometimes, someone who hasn't read a certain author will try a book on a recommendation and come back and ask for more books by that author."
Despite dire predictions to the contrary, there are still plenty of people who read, Robinson says, and many come into his store in the summer as a family to pick out their reading material for their stay. "The vacation reader has to have a certain book to read at that time because that's the time he has to read it," Robinson says. "Having new books allows me to help that reader."
On a rainy early fall morning last week, a half-dozen people milled around the stacks at The Bookateria Two—so-named because the first Bookateria in Newark, DE, is owned by a friend of Robinson's who got the idea for the business from the Mother Earth periodical. A retired middle school teacher, a couple who had last visited the store in December and were in search of Stephen King books, and three others wandered up and down the aisles.
The Bookateria Two stocks 25,000 paperbacks and takes in between 200 to 500 books a day in the summer. Robinson gives store credit for used paperbacks in good condition at 70 percent of the original price. Customers can use their store credit to buy books, plus pay an additional $2 for each book ($1.87 per book plus 13¢ tax.) For example, if a customer brings in a $10 paperback, Robinson will issue a credit for $7 (70 percent of the original cost). The customer can then pick out another book for $7 or less, and purchase that book with his credit plus an additional $1.87 plus tax.
Those without trades can buy used paperbacks for half the original price. New books are sold for cash at 15 percent off the cover price.
The Bookateria Two, 1052 Asbury Ave., 609-398-0121. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday through Thanksgiving. Open Thursday, Friday and Saturday in the winter.