In this screen-saturated, Amazon-dominated day and age, one might not expect used book store to be able to pull its own weight. Uptown Kingston’s Half Moon Books on the other hand, continues to enjoy consistent sales. There are a few reasons why, said bookstore owner Jessica DuPont.
DuPont bought North Front Street’s Alternative Books on North Front Street eight years ago from former owner Rick Stone, with no actual background in marketing, publishing, or sales. A committed bibliophile, DuPont said she was walking down the street one day, saw the bookstore for sale, and decided she would like to buy it. “I bought my store just as Kindles and then iPads were making their debut,” said DuPont. “I think they ended up being a bigger threat to magazines than books when all was said and done.”
DuPont, a mother of four and a Cottekill resident, said she believes that smartphones are such a distraction and time suck, however, that she worries people are reading less overall. She said there are some books, like children’s books and art books, that “don’t translate well to the screen” and she has noticed a lot of young people preferring to pick up a copy of a paper book as an antidote to screens. “So I guess it doesn’t worry me too much, because I think there will still be enough people who are into books that will carry me to retirement; I really don’t want to have any other job ever again,” she mused.
Rhinebeck high school teacher Laura Ifill is one such customer. She said she prefers to visit the bookstore to get her students’ reading assignments, as compared to buying online. “I don’t like all the packaging, it’s a waste,” she said. “I can bring my business local. I want my money to stay local.”
Diversifying has also been a saving grace, said DuPont, as she has added a thrift store and begun selling children’s toys and puzzles and matting illustrations from old books and magazine covers and selling them. DuPont is also crafting whimsical journals from old, damaged or discarded books. Her newest acquisition is a Victorian scrapbook filled with ephemera.
Half of her customers are locals, she said, and the other half are weekenders and tourists. “I can’t speak for the industry as a whole,” said DuPont, “but as Uptown has become more lively, my business has definitely improved.” She also sells regularly to fellow dealers and collectors.
How does Half Moon stay relevant against the ever-shifting and increasingly squirrelly landscape of human attention? For starters, she said, one of the benefits of working primarily with used books is that there isn’t as much pressure to have the latest, hottest title. That removes the need to speculate on what is trending in biblio-fashion any given week. She does, however, do her due diligence with book reviews to stay on top of what’s popular to counterbalance the good old classics.
She estimated she carries anywhere between 20,000-25,000 books on her shelf. Independent newspapers such as The Shadow and the feminist magazine Bitch line the magazine shelves. “Our magazine selection is rather eclectic because I don’t make that much money off them, so I stock stuff that I like to read, we carry Bust, N+1, Uncut, Adbusters, Film Comment, stuff like that.” There are events, such as literary readings, book signings and children’s programs. And of course, a basement full of thrift clothing.
Not everything old is moving, however. A book on Russian slang conspicuously beckoning any dedicated logophile, the reference book section has been dwindling rapidly, noted DuPont, “Reference books are legitimately being replaced by the Internet”. Munro Leaf wrote a series on children’s manners that Half Moon stocks, and other stimulating choices from Eunuchs and Castrati to conspiracy theories to The Book was Better [Than the Movie] shelf.
DuPont said religious and metaphysical books are in demand as well, and therefore Half Moon dutifully offers books on UFOs, crop circles and various types of looming doomsday scenarios. DuPont tends to stock what she finds interesting, and was slightly surprised that her sociology books did not do well. “I think if someone were to make a study of what is on my shelves, they could probably draw some fascinating conclusions about my personality because about 60 percent of what I stock are titles and subjects that seem really interesting to me… and I’m a curious person,” said DuPont. “The worst sections in my store are the sections that I have a hard time generating personal enthusiasm for like sports. I think the only reason I even have that section at this point is because I have two dedicated customers who always buy sports books.” DuPont gets her books from library sales, donated, books traded for credit, house calls and just plain old shopping around.
What are people reading these days? Fiction, cookbooks, children’s books, she said. “After the election we had a really hard time keeping 1984, Animal Farm and The Handmaid’s Tale in stock,” said DuPont, noting an increase in the sale of dystopian novels. “I’ve noticed history and politics are still above average too. Series books like Harry Potter, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, School for Good and Evil are still incredibly popular with kids, DuPont reported. Gardening books, and field guides are ever popular, particularly mushrooms. “I just got a book on mushrooms, and I know it will be gone before the end of the week. I don’t know what it is, but people love mushrooms.” And, of course, as it does in the newspaper biz, gore always sells.
Half Moon Books is at 35 N. Front St. and can be reached at (845) 331-5439.