MAKER OF THE MONTH: THE BOOKERY
This month Nancy Dunk shares her experience as an entrepreneur in the used book business. Her shop, The Bookery, is in the heart of Placerville, California, smack dab on Main Street. Boasting over 150,000 volumes, this bookstore is stocked with all of our favorites and exudes small town charm. We love getting lost in the maze of stacks, ending up with a pile to bring home. What we love most is Nancy's passion for community and enthusiasm for books. She is at peace stocking shelves, catching up with customers, and taking in "new" inventory. Click here to shop her curated selection of vintage hardcovers on our site. Each book is written by a female author and was handpicked just for Larkspur!
Were you always a book lover?
My parents didn’t have a lot of books around when I was growing up. I got started because after my first divorce, I was very distraught. I had a friend who was one of the most well-read people I’ve ever known and she gave me lists of books to read to distract myself—stuff like John O’Hara and Taylor Caldwell. So for the next year or so, I just stayed lost in these people’s stories and that’s how I got through this whole thing. I just started developing this thing for books. And then a little while later I got a job at the bookstore in town.
How did The Bookery get started?
My business partner, Celia, and I actually didn’t start the shop. I was working for a different bookstore in town and Celia and I had a little janitor business together. We were doing a little of this and a little of that. So when the bookstore I was working for closed, I was out of a job, and I started working for the people who owned this store. So one day Celia came in while I was working and looked around and said, “You know we should buy this place.” The people who owned it just weren’t putting any energy into it. So we made them an offer. We each worked two other jobs for three years so we could grow the business.
Is there a specific customer interaction that really stands out in your mind?
Some people you just know by what they read. One of my best customers was like that. It wasn’t too long after he started coming in that I knew his name. He was in every 2 weeks and bought all poetry and Buddhism books. Last year in May, a couple young guys came in and said they had books they wanted to give me, which is sometimes a sign that they have a bunch of junk. I started looking at the stuff they had and it was beautiful, all these Buddhist books that were like-new. And as I started going through all the books, I realized it was Joel. That these were his books and that he had passed away. He hadn’t told anyone he had cancer. I would have said he’d been in just the week before, but it turns out that it had been a couple months because he’d been sick. That was hard.
We’ve had three couples use The Bookery to meet on blind dates. One of them just got married and another couple has been married 19 years. They knew each other 6 weeks and got married after first meeting here.
Tell us about being a female business owner and how being a woman has shaped your experience.
When we got into the business, it was unusual for women to be in the used book business. In those days, used books leaned towards the antiquarian. And so, it was almost exclusively intellectual men. A lot of them chose to do this because they loved books, but forgot that they had to sell them to live people. I think part of our popularity and success has been that—we’re both big readers and love books—but we aren’t highly educated or anything like that. We like people and we know what people read. We know what their grandkids are up to. We know about their dogs. It’s that kind of thing.
What advice would you give young people growing a business?
There’s a corny book title that says do what you love and the money will follow. I can’t guarantee that, but I can’t imagine being in a job that I didn’t like and just doing it for money. It fascinates me when people move across the country for a job because it makes a lot of money. I love my town and my friends and I’ve always said that if something happened to this business, I’d rather go back to waiting tables than have to move away to follow a job. Just be happy with where you are and what you do.
What do you do to nurture yourself?
Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a life other than my business. I get so much reward from this business because it’s what I like to do. It’s a social place to be. On my days off I start getting antsy because I miss it. But I have other things I like to do. Hiking, working in my yard, going out to eat with friends. I’m big on exercise.
If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be?
When I lived in Hawaii I fell in love with guavas and passionfruit. I think I’d have to be a passionfruit. I just love the flavor of it. In Hawaii, passionfruit is called lilikoi and they’d call me Lilikoi Lil cause I was always eating it and cooking with it.