The portable bookstore

Linda Harrington and customer/volunteer Lisa Platti load in the books. (photo by Lynn Woods)

Linda Harrington and customer/volunteer Lisa Platti load in the books. (photo by Lynn Woods)

Four years ago, the Bohemian Book Bin moved out of the Kings Mall to a 2,000-square-foot building in Lake Katrine, as a way of avoiding a hefty increase in the rent. Now the used bookstore, which stocks approximately 30,000 books, is moving again, this time to the small strip mall on Route 9W opposite the Kings Valley Diner.

The Lake Katrine location was a disappointment, noted bookstore owner Linda Harrington. Her initial plans to buy the building had fallen through, a let-down that she now considers a blessing.

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“Our customers complained they could never find us,” she said. “We got yelled at once a day.” Many of her 2,000 or so regular customers weren’t so regular anymore — visiting once a month, compared to every other week when the store was at the Kings Mall.

But it wasn’t easy finding a better, more visible location at an affordable price, given that landlords typically charge between $12 and $14 a square foot, not including property taxes and maintenance charges — beyond the means of the typical used bookstore owner.

Fortunately, the family that owns the strip mall on Albany Avenue gave Harrington a break, charging approximately half the going rate.

Harrington has had a varied career and fell into the business almost by happenstance. After working for Amtrak for 14 years, she left New York City and moved to Woodstock, selling advertising for a local newspaper before opening a café bookstore called Author Author in the Rondout in 1991, when the area was still pretty desolate. She had a second job working as assistant to the executive chef at Mohonk Mountain House, but gave it all up in 1996 to return to the city to be with her brother’s family when his wife became terminally ill.

Harrington got a job as human resources manager for Battery Park City Park Conservancy and was on the scene right after 9/11, bringing in the Red Cross and a therapy group to counsel her employees. Eventually she burned out — the annual 9/11 memorial service was particularly emotionally wearing, she said — and returned to the Hudson Valley in 2004, lured by her many friends in the area and the blossoming art and cultural scene.

She bought a house on a lake in Ulster Park and got a job at Hudson Valley Bookstop. “The owner hired me to sell me the bookstore” and in 2005, she bought it and renamed it Bohemian Book Bin, supplementing the enormous inventory of used books with readings and other events.

One selling point was that the store’s business was based on a simple discounting system, which the owner had computerized: books were automatically discounted half off the cover price, and a further half off discount was credited to customers who brought in books.

Harrington said it’s a formula that makes her competitive with the discounters on the Internet. And no matter how low the online used book stores price their books, she had the advantage of not having to charge for shipping. She also further discounted books at the store’s annual outdoor $5-a-bag book sale, which she plans to do more frequently. (A $5-a-bag yard sale is going on right now at the old location, in fact.)

Plus, “the recycling idea really works,” Harrington said. “People feel confident they’re doing something good for the environment.” She estimated 80 percent of her customers are regulars who get credit for used books they bring in. Many of her customers are Bard College students, looking for cheap books.

Harrington organizes the books into 35 sections, of which paperback fiction is the most popular. “We have the biggest sci fi section in Ulster County,” she said. Books on art, self help, religion, and history also sell well. Bohemian Book Bin also carries large-print books for people with vision difficulties. The store is phasing out books on business, health, and pets, along with children’s books. “We’re finding children aren’t reading anymore,” she said.

Harrington said she might consider carrying a type of electronic reader, similar to a Kindle, that’s sold by independent bookstores. But she’s not worried that such devices are sounding the death knell for books. One reason is price: “with a Kindle you have to pay full price for a book,” she said. Plus, many people will continue to relish the physicality of books — the easy way they fit in one’s hands, the heft of the pages, the character of the typeface and the musty smell of the paper.

Bohemian Book Bin is open every day, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., extended to 8 p.m. during spring and summer. Harrington is hopeful she’ll be able to hire employees, as she did at Kings’ Mall.

“The lesson we learned is it’s all about location, location, location,” Harrington said. Bohemian Book Bin should be up and running at its new location the third week of January. Meanwhile, Harrington has gotten help with the packing and transport of her thousands of volumes to Albany Avenue from family, friends and loyal customers, after she posted a call for help on Facebook; volunteers are served coffee and donuts in the morning and pizza in the afternoon. If you would like to help out, and give this 27-year-old community bookstore a boost, contact Linda Harrington at (845) 336-6450.

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