Welcome back to our Bookseller Spotlight feature. This time our spotlight shines on Tarmans Books, whose store is called Olde Factory, located in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania. Biblio loves to support independent booksellers…it’s what we are all about! We appreciate Mary Ellen Tarman taking the time to answer our questions.
Tarmans Books has been providing a wonderful selection of books since 1989 via their website, Tarmansbooks.com as well as their physical location at the co-op, Olde Factory, located in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania.
Do you specialize in any genres?
Typically we select nonfiction and history as our focus. We like local history and genealogy. We acquired a great collection of signed mysteries this past year and they are fun as a departure.
Would you like to share any favorite memories?
In 1998, I purchased some incunables and had them displayed in my bookshop. In May, one of the books was stolen, which was very distressing. I fussed in my mind about it for a number of weeks wondering which customer had taken it. In September, we had a call to make a home visit to see the books of a man who died. As we were going through the house which had a lot of antiques, art, and books all over, I saw my stolen book lying on a table in full view. I was able to reclaim the book with no argument from the heir. We purchased a number of books which turned out to have been stolen from a local historical society and I was able to get these books returned to them. There were more eerie facts about this event which time and space would limit me describing. One other fun situation occurred in 1994 when I attended a book sale in Trexlertown, PA. A customer had asked for a Latin Bible and at the end of the sale I had time to check the religion section. I found a Bible in Latin but didn’t stop to check the Roman Numeral date. It was a dollar per the price marked. Turned out it was printed in the 1490s and an auction in Pottstown the price yielded $3,600. It was a nice find and totally dumb luck.
How did you get started selling books?
We scouted books for other dealers in the late 1970s and early 1980’s. We began to sell books via Antique Week ads which permitted 10 titles to be listed weekly. We quoted to other dealers through AB Bookmans Weekly in the 1980’s. We also had a specialty of selling dog and cat books by mail order in the 1980’s. We ran ads in the major cat and dog magazines and sent out price lists. We then evolved into antique co-ops in three counties in south-central Pennsylvania. In 1994 we closed all co-ops and opened a full time bookshop in Hummelstown, PA. By 1999 the Internet overtook local sales and we closed the store which was in an 1800s building we restored. We have maintained a local retail presence at Olde Factory in Hummelstown since 1996.
How do you view your role as an independent bookseller?
We believe we provide interesting books that we have located and which may not be easy for customers to locate on their own.
What do you find most rewarding about your job?
The social and intellectual component. Meeting people, serving customers, and the challenge of evaluating interesting books makes a dynamic enterprise.
What is most challenging?
Locating good inventory in fine condition at prices that are fair to the seller and yet enable us to make a livelihood.
What was the most interesting book acquired/sold in your shop?
We recently acquired books from the Estate of Maj. Dick Winters who was the commander of Easy Company in the 101st Battalion and who was the focus of the series Band of Brothers and the book, Citizen Soldier. It is very moving to have these books as Maj. Winters is a real hero in my eyes and to many others.
Do you have a piece of book repair/preservation advice?
First, do no harm. Think before you act. Years ago I had rebound professionally a lot of civil war era books as they were worn and shabby. They didn’t sell at all and I wasted my money. People wanted these old books to retain the flavor of age despite being shabby.
Do you have a bookstore cat, or other mascot?
We had a Chinese Shar Pei named Annie who was with me everyday when we had an open shop.
What is your clientele like?
Interesting people who teach me something every time we interact. Their interests in what they buy makes me more focused on subjects I would otherwise neglect at buying opportunities.
What’s your favorite book, or one you are finding yourself most likely to sell these days?
I love Stephen King. I read him in the 70s and 80s and rediscovered the canon this winter. They only sell at the co-op, I wouldn’t offer them online as there is a glut. As a departure, I like English authors.
Any upcoming in-store/online events/sales/etc?
Continuing sale at Olde Factory, 139 S. Hanover St., Hummelstown PA of lightly used and collectibles books. Approximately 2000 books presented there.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Be courteous to your fellow dealers and respect your customers by describing your books accurately, shipping promptly and using good packing materials, and communicate your intentions to your customers.
Tarmans Books Official Website: http://www.tarmans.com
Tarmans Books on Biblio: https://www.biblio.com/bookstore/tarmans-books-hummelstown
Telephone: (717) 566-7030
Tarmans Books at the Olde Factory
139 S. Hanover Street
Hummelstown, Pennsylvania 17036
Open daily from 10-6 and Sundays from Noon to 5.