Monday, September 15, 2014

Interview with Mike Wilkinson of Around About Books

Welcome to Up Around the Corner, Mike. Could you tell us a little about yourself and about Around About Books?

Around About Books Storefront
Just off the Square in Troy, Ohio
Thanks a lot for asking, Terry. Some of my earliest memories are of my father reading to me. They're also most of my favorite memories from my childhood. My dad had a way of reading up to an exciting point then he'd stop and say, "What do you think is going to happen next?" Well, for a small child, that is all it took to start my imagination flying. It was only natural that I'd love all things printed after that. When the other kids wanted to be firemen and policemen I told the teacher I wanted to own a library. After learning that I couldn't own a library I went the next logical route...I bought a bookstore.

There are three of us, all together, who own Around About Books. Myself, Sue Cantrell and Dave Crouse. We purchased the store, I guess it's been ten years now. No regrets. It has been a dream to introduce folks to their new best friends (not to mention that you get first crack at a lot of the books that come through -- there is a lot "Dibs Calling", to be sure).

You’ve mentioned two positives about working at a books store, Mike. Can you make it three? And are there any drawbacks, especially one that those who are readers might not expect?

I could make it one hundred positive things easily, Terry! It is simply the best. Owning a bookstore often feels like offering a public service, lol. Expanding on that -- I love the feeling of getting to know customers. People tend to talk to me the same way I imagine they'd talk to their bartender. You start simply enough, talking about a book they love or why they love an author -- pretty soon they are taking you through their lives and why they have the passions they do. It's got to be one of the greatest feelings in the world. I feel connected in a way that I don't think folks who do a lot of other things get the chance to do very often.

The biggest drawback? I'd have to say there are really only a few. The biggest is folks who wander into the store that have no desire to read (which is alright -- we offer a lot of other things for them to stumble onto while in the store). I've NEVER been able to comprehend the mentality that allows them to believe that NOT reading is an advantage. Like they, somehow, made it to wherever they find themselves without ever reading -- and we should, for some reason, look up to them for it. I feel protective of my other customers on those occasions.

One question many of the readers of Up Around the Corner might have is how Around About Books has managed to compete with online bookstores, and the rise of ebooks, and do you feel continuing to compete could become an increasingly uphill struggle?

Local Authors Section
Great question! Honestly, not a lot of folks seem to be aware of the trouble that many "Mom & Pop" bookstores face from all the new technologies available. I'm all for the amazing tech gadgets out there. I'm a huge fan of science in general. However, those same wonders have taken such a HUGE bite out of the pie it leaves so little for the regular person.

As I said, a bookstore was a dream for me so there really is no option but to never give up. We are really just starting to dip our collective toe into the online sales market. We have a few books listed on and we get a little business from that. Though, I confess, none of us are very good at that part so we are learning as we go.

As for the eBooks, it was a much worse problem for us in the beginning. We have all noticed a trend that the same folks who showed up in the beginning selling us their books saying they are switching to eBooks are starting to come back looking to re-buy their collections. Even the folks who really love eBooks are deciding they want to actually own the book and have it on their shelves as well as on their reading devices. My father used to say, "You can learn a lot about a person by what you find on their bookshelves." I think many folks now have to look at a lot of empty spaces where their favorite books once sat and they miss it. I think eBooks will certainly continue but I also think that the "newness" of them is already starting to fade.

Real books will never be a fad and even the kids who were being raised on eBooks are starting to come in and discover the wonder of turning an actual paper page. I don't really see trying to compete with eReaders as an uphill struggle anymore. I think it is starting to level off now.

There is room for everyone at the party and, as long as the love of reading or the need to learn exists, bookstores may suffer through hard times but the diehards will fight and will survive. We are the keepers of knowledge -- that's a pretty important job.

What trends are you noticing in your customer? For example: More interest in nonfiction or romance, or preference of hard cover over mass market paperbacks?

The most die hard sections of our store tend to be History for nonfiction and the Young Adult novels are the hot item(s) in fiction. Sales tend to be divided -- nonfiction sales are almost exclusively hardback and fiction is either trade sized or paperback.

What three people, living or deceased, would you find to be absolutely awesome if they walked into Around About Books to browse and maybe strike up a conversation. What would you hope to discuss with them, and if they asked you to suggest a book for them to read, what might it be?

Wow, that would be a HUGE list. I have a list of just authors I'd love to speak with and give them a tour of the store. I have a list of personal heroes and "important" people. I have never thought of trying to cut the list down to just three. No matter what angle I take this is tough. I guess Richard Laymon, Dr. Creep, and Abraham Lincoln. I'd give Richard Laymon a book on how to turn your books into movies (one of my favorite authors who seems to have always been overlooked in his short lifetime), Dr. Creep a book about how to take care of yourself and President Lincoln would get a copy of "Our American Cousin" so he wouldn't have to see the play!

Can you think of any unusual or especially challenging customer questions that came your way in the past few years?

One of my favorites has always been the time I had a very nice lady come in and ask if I had any red books. At first I thought she meant the magazine. I told her maybe in a collection of some sort. I told her I had never read any and asked her the subject matter. She looked me in the eye and said, "It doesn't really matter." I thought on this and must have looked totally lost. She leaned in and said, "You know, just red books." She said it in such a way that I felt like I was missing something. Suddenly, it occurred to me. I leaned back in close to her and whispered, "You mean Communist?" This young lady looked at me like I grew a third eye. Of course it turned out that she was looking for a certain shade of red to go with her decorating scheme. I had never dealt with that particular customer problem before but we figured it all out and found her what she was looking for and I ended up with my own Abbott and Costello memory.

Abbot and Costello, who doesn’t like them? Good story.

As we’re closing in on the end of the interview, Mike, is there anything you like to add or share with the readers of Up Around the Corner?

Around About Books Co-owner
Mike Wilkinson
It's been a LOT of fun, Terry! I really enjoyed this. It isn't often that a guy who sells books to folks gets to feel all important like.

Thank you so much for thinking of us at Around About Books and including us.

We'd love your readers to come on out to the store. Hang out with us and chat for a bit. If you like a book, try it out and see if you've found a soul mate. The one thing we are always needing is more friends.

If you get the chance, please check us out on Facebook, just search for "Around About Books" and, if you like what you see, give us a "LIKE".

It's coming up on the Halloween season and that is probably the best time to drop by because we are huge Halloween fans so the store and its windows are all made up. You never know what might jump out at you.

We have a lot going on and we are always looking for suggestions so please, we'd love to see you.

You’re welcome, Mike. I’ll second that if readers get the chance they should stop in at Around About Books. I don’t get there often enough, but always enjoy chatting and checking out the shelves (you have two floors packed with books).

Readers can find out more about Around About Books by following these links:



  1. excellent interview with a old friend that I consider one of my best friends! Great responses Mike! I couldn't agree more with all that you said about reading. I never really got one the ebook train....I have a few on my Kindle HD but nothing beats having the real book on a shelf. Plus outside of the great way it looks having books on display and the feel if the crisp pages being turned) hence the reasons I have a library in my room..hundreds of books!....real books, when taken care of, tend to gain value...ebooks don't! Just a little bonus to having real books.

    1. Joseph,
      Thanks for visiting and reading the interview. I understand your sentiments. :)