Down a narrow, busy-ish street in Mt. Laurel are a few small shops clustered together beneath autumn’s canopy and the blue, blue sky. In one of these is Second Time Books. I actually visited Second Time Books about a year and a half ago, when I first came to New Jersey to look at houses ahead of our move. Jim, the owner, was friendly and unobtrusive, letting my cousin and I explore the nooks and crannies full of books. I walked away with three heavy hardbacks about topics I never would’ve thought to seek out, all for right around $10-15 (I don’t have the receipt anymore to double-check.) He was just as friendly when I went back a couple of weeks ago. We had a chat about books, his store, and bookselling generally.
First, Second Time Books is Jim’s second store. He closed down the first when his oldest daughter went off to college, and he worried about being able to pay for her school and his overhead. “People open bookstores because they love books,” he says, and thanks to the support of his family, including his wife, who works in biomedical engineering, he’s been able to do that for about twelve years altogether. Second Time Books specializes in sci-f/fantasy and history. It is a used book store, but it didn’t feel like one to me. Most of the books are in very good condition, and the ones that aren’t merely feel well-loved. Another bonus to this bookstore: it’s near a place that serves super-delicious, unpretentious pizza on paper plates.
The target demographic for this store are, first, students, young adults who are somewhat educated, who like to read and to learn, but maybe don’t have a lot of money and are looking for a deal. Second, he markets to more established professionals who have disposable income, people who are interested in history but aren’t looking for a textbook. Really good nonfiction reads seamlessly, he says, and is almost never resold.
I asked Jim about some of the challenges facing booksellers right now: the burgeoning eReader market, decreasing book customers overall, and our current economic stress. I asked him specifically if books weren’t maybe becoming a niche market, like antiques. He vehemently denied this. “The book is a marvelous invention,” he said. “You never have to plug it in. It’s irreplaceable.” It’s impossible to improve on the design of the book. He concedes that maybe books will become less ubiquitous, but, practically speaking, he claims that there will always be room for beautifully bound books (especially on the shelves of status-seekers). “And good literature will always be needed.” His target markets also insulate him a little bit. People who go for eReaders “are quick consumers,” he says, but people who read literature are savorers. Also, nonfiction books tend to have illustrations, notes, and other addenda that don’t translate well to eBooks. He’s no Luddite, though. About 40% of his business comes through online transactions, either through his own site or through third-party markets like Amazon Marketplace.
I asked him what consumers can do to support their independent booksellers better, and he basically turned the onus back on himself. All customers need to do is to be willing to put in a little extra time and spread the word. His shop isn’t along a main road, and it doesn’t carry the heavy, varied inventory of a big box store like Barnes & Noble. Jim tries to compensate for this by providing extra services to his customers for free, like plastic library-style covers or book searches. He’s civic-minded, donating stock he can’t use to charities. He doesn’t have a customer rewards card, but he does have really great prices, and he’ll often cut customers a break on those.
Jim’s favorite fantasy book is The Lord of the Rings, though he thinks of it more as literature than mere genre fiction, and he’s a J.R.R. Tolkien aficionado and collector. Other favorite authors (of any genre) include James Clavell, Brandon Sanderson, David mcCullough, Edmund Morris, and David Hackett Fisher. I’m sure if I’d given him more time to think about it, he could’ve come up with even more.
I love Second Time Books. It has a welcoming, cozy atmosphere and the staff (Jim +1, “Joe,” as far as I can tell) are knowledgeable and friendly. It’s also ten minutes from my house and has great prices. And then there’s that pizza… I’ll definitely be returning.
Second Time Books
123 Creek Rd.
Mt. Laurel, NJ
i n f o @ S e c o n d T i m e B o o k s O n l i n e . c o m
(sorry to spell it out like that, but I’m trying to avoid bots)