Down the Stairs and Between the Covers
Seven years ago, Jeanne Regentin began her career in bookselling at Between the Covers, a general independent bookstore, which has been serving readers in Harbor Springs, Michigan, for close to 25 years. "I did what everyone who wants to work at a bookstore does," Regentin explained about her entree to the book industry. "I thought someone would pay me to read. It doesn't really work out that way, but the reality has proved to be much more fun than I ever could have imagined." So much fun that Regentin went from part-time staff member to owner within two years.
Between the Covers was launched by Jeff Brearly in 1983 or '84, said Regentin. The store occupied the ground floor of a 100-year-old building on Main Street. When business dipped in 2001, Brearly moved the business downstairs. In 2003, he presented Regentin with something of an ultimatum. "He wanted to retire. He sort of threatened either you buy it, or this is it. I'll have to close. I knew if I wanted a bookstore in my town, I'd have to pony up," she explained.
Harbor Springs' winter population is about 2,000, but it quintuples in the summer. The area is "a golf mecca," said Regentin. "It's a very wealthy town and has been for more than 100 years. The Gamble family (of Proctor & Gamble) maintains a house here, the Wrigley Offields (of Wrigley field and chewing gum fame)."
A staircase on Main Street leads down to the 800-square-foot store, which opens onto a patio that provides ample natural light. Stone walls, a fireplace, and bookcases installed by Regentin's husband create "an incredible space," where every inch is used. ("Paco Underhill would have a fit," quipped Regentin.)
Between the Covers, which stocks 6,000 titles, specializes in British mysteries, a genre that appeals to Regentin and a number of the store staff. Among their favorites are titles from Felony and Mayhem Press, usually "out-of-print or printed-across-the-pond-but-never-made-it-here titles" that "tend to be the kind of mysteries that are true puzzles," said Regentin.
Regional titles, including mushroom field guides for Morel season, also get their due at Between the Covers, and a recently expanded children's area has doubled that section's sales.
A corner baker's rack serves as a permanent Book Sense display. "We made a mobile of the Book Sense logo to hang over it," said Regentin. "On it we display this month's Picks titles, usually along with this month's and last month's Picks lists and other Picks lists, like the Children's list and the Year-end list. When possible, we also put the lists in bags with customer purchases."
Regentin attended last month's Winter Institute in Louisville, Kentucky, and called it "the best weekend of her life." She added, "I want everyone at ABA to understand what an amazing, exciting, inspirational weekend that was for us, as booksellers and business people."
Regentin said she and staff member Judy Cummings attended all of the meal functions. "How extraordinary to bring in that many speakers and have every single one of them be an inspiration!" she added.
When Cummings and Regentin returned from Wi3, they organized a staff workshop based on the "Handselling" session and used the related videos available on BookWeb.org. They also plan to give staff store evaluation sheets, provided in the Wi3 handbook, to generate a mass of ideas about "making changes to improve placement, add signs, and improve our traffic flow," said Regentin. "We'll be using materials from the 'Self-Audit' session, the 'Designed to Sell' session, and the 'Getting More Out of Your Children's Section' session."
Between the Covers will also be benefiting from a Buy Local makeover. "I got all fired up at the 'Buy Local' talk," said Regentin. "Anything we carry that isn't book-related, I'm going to try to pick up from local sources. We'll get book bags from an area artist, bookmarks. Any [sideline] we carry will be an effort to promote local business." --Karen Schechner