Welcome back to our Bookseller Spotlight feature. This time our spotlight shines on Saucony Book Shop, of Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Many thanks to proprietor Brendan Strasser for his time. Biblio loves to support independent booksellers…it’s what we are all about!
The Saucony Book Shop, located in the heart of scenic rural Berks County, epicenter of Pennsylvania German folk culture (our shop specialty), offers a full range of gently used, rare, and antiquarian books, with many volumes of scholarly merit and an unabashed emphasis on the quaint, the curious, and the utterly obscure. We make no attempt to be a general-service book shop. Our inventory is highly selective, individually chosen from among the hundreds of thousands of books to which we have access annually at auctions, library and estate sales, and through individual scouts and vendors. Despite maintaining a browsing inventory of more than 15,000 volumes, we have minimized our carbon footprint by maintaining our entire operation — including inventory storage, packing and shipping, and retail sales — in less than 1,000 square feet, a cozy little operation housed primarily in a former shoe repair shed alongside the Saucony Creek in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Full search and appraisal services; always keenly interested in purchasing quality used books, whether by the piece or by the bushel. Member, Independent Online Booksellers Association (IOBA).
What makes your bookshop special?
We have a reasonable claim to being the smallest used and antiquarian book shop in Pennsylvania (and perhaps most of the Northeast!), conducting our brick & mortar operation in a mere 416 square feet of floor space (with additional storage and much of our on-line inventory off-site). We’ve often been told by customers that we have an absolutely quaint and charming storefront and location perched atop the 1911 bridge fording the Saucony Creek in Kutztown, PA. With a convenience store across the street, an independently-owned coffeehouse just across the bridge, more than a dozen cafes and eateries within a five-minute walk, and a host of unique niche businesses along our historic Main Street, we are ideally situated for browsers and weekend adventurers.
How did you get started selling books?
After Jim Tinsman, an anthropology professor at Kutztown University, opened a second-hand shop called The Used Book Store in Kutztown in 1979, my freshman year of high school, I hung around there so much that he finally took pity on me and hired me to help organize his stock and assist customers. I worked for him from 1981-88 (two years of high school and five of college/graduate school), and again for several years (1990-92) after I returned from my Ph.D. program. I am proud to say that I learned more about bookselling, about all manner of arcane subjects, and about life in general by working in that shop than I ever learned in the classroom, and I never put aside bookselling completely. While teaching at a local community college, I began selling books on-line through listservs in 1995 and on eBay in 1998. In 2000, I quit teaching entirely to become a full-time bookseller, opening my own shop in 2004. I am not necessarily known for making good decisions, but that one was certainly one of the best I ever made.
What do you find most rewarding about your job?
At this point, I can envision no other career and lifestyle for myself. I set my own hours, rising late (because I can) and staying up late (often because I have to). I have a 40-foot commute in the morning, coffee cup in hand, from the back door of my residence to the front door of the book shop, and every day brings the potential to meet more of the fascinating and often fabulous characters who scavenge about in search of used books. When I am not in the shop, I attend estate auctions and library sales within about a 100-mile radius, taking in all of eastern Pennsylvania, most of New Jersey, and portions of New York, Delaware, and Maryland. As an aside, I happen to be making a better income than had I remained in teaching, but I would gladly continue bookselling regardless.
What is most challenging?
I suppose that one might cite long hours and deflated prices (due mostly to the ready availability of books on-line), but really, now — what challenges? Every day I awaken blessed to be able to earn a living by doing what I absolutely most love. How many people can truthfully say that?
What was the most interesting book acquired/sold in your shop?
We’ve had so many . . . Currently we have the first printing of the Declaration of Independence in book form, a 1777 edition of The Annual Register, issued in London through the mid to late 18th century to provide updates of life in the American colonies. Personally, the most fascinating of my finds was a handwritten census of the Borough Kutztown, completed for the national centennial in 1876 and lost for 119 years, providing a unique glimpse into our town’s history.
Have you had any celebrities visit your store?
No, and we hope to maintain our good luck in that regard.
Do you specialize in any genres?
We specialize in Pennsylvaniana and Pennsylvania German history, folklore and culture. More generally, we are deep in Americana and American regional history, art and architecture, and most non-fiction subjects, with more than a passing interest in literature as well.
What do you think of ebooks?
In the short term, I think that they are irrelevant to my particular portion of the trade, which is scarce, rare, and out-of-print volumes. In the long term, I consider them to be an asset: if publishers eventually print fewer copies of the new John Grisham novel, it will be beneficial to the environment, and first editions of that novel may someday actually be worth more than a few cents because their supply will be more limited. In my capacities as bookseller, appraiser, and inveterate auction-goer, I paw through literally hundreds of thousands of books every year; there is no shortage of books, and no shortage of good books, and will not be in the foreseeable future.
Do you have a piece of book repair/preservation advice?
Repair of bindings should be done with acid-neutral glue. Dealers who break apart volumes to sell individual plates (unless the book is already incomplete or beyond repair) should be drawn and quartered.
Do you have a bookstore cat, or other mascot?
Two of our three cats, Tootsie and Henry, make occasional trips to the shop while doing their daily rounds. Recently a handsome and talkative black long-hair stray, whom we have named Grizzly, has graced us with his presence as well.
What is your clientele like?
Eccentric, ferociously well-read, articulate, curious, obsessive, specialized, opinionated, and absorbingly diverse.
Who is your favorite local author?
In 1975, Millen Brand, a novelist and poet who was associated with certain of the Beat writers in the ’50s, published a volume titled Local Lives: Poems About the Pennsylvania Dutch, more than 500 pages of portraits of his neighbors and the history of his little section of Berks County in the vicinity of Bally, Hereford, and Oley. It was, and remains, an almost wholly unknown work, and among my favorites.
Saucony Book Shop
41 West Main St.
Kutztown , Pennsylvania 19530
Shop phone: 484-646-9097
Facebook page: Saucony Book Shop
Store hours: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays 12-6 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m.-5 p.m., others by appointment or chance. If traveling from a distance, please call ahead to be sure that we’re not off at another auction!