Putting stock in downtown

November 18, 1998

After nine years in a comfortable cubbyhole of a storefront next door to the Carol & Company gift shop in downtown Hagerstown, Pam Reed this month moved The Book Store Etc. up West Washington Street to the space once occupied by Rosen's Department Store.

Normally, this would have been a major event, but the move coincided with the wind-up of Campaign '98, which meant that the opening was just a tiny pop in the middle of the campaign's final roar.

But that unfortunate timing shouldn't be an excuse for ignoring what's really happened: A businesswoman has taken a leap of faith in downtown, tripling her store space and doubling the number of books, in area where even experienced retailers find it tough to make a go of it. And even though she's an official of the Downtown Assessment District, Reed considered some suburban locations.

"I toyed with the idea of leaving downtown, but I would lose foot traffic and a customer base that had been very supportive," she said.


"I have three times as much space here, and it's a great risk, but it's also a belief that downtown will appreciate and support the move," she said.

Reed is also hoping that her customers and the city in general will support what she says is "my very strong mission - to bring parents and children together in reading and learning."

She's done workshops and story times in the schools, and says all of it has only reinforced her feeling that reading to a child "creates a bond you can't get through television. A book shared with a child is a gift you can give them over and over again."

The new location will allow her to add more children's titles and more reading-related gifts for children. She's also adding more adult books, hastening to add that what she can't stock she can order within three days, with none of the shipping charges on-line book sellers charge.

The move might have happened sooner had there been other space available downtown, she said, but she's glad she waited.

"I have a fascination with old buildings, and the minute I walked in the door with Vincent (Groh, the building's owner), I could see the store," she said.

"What I was trying to create was a certain feel that we had with the other store. Sometimes you walk into a place and it's just a store," she said.

To Reed, the chain stores and strip shopping centers all have a sameness that is boring. But she notes that it takes a conscious effort to support the independents, "or they cease to exist."

Reed has a point. If we pay attention only to price, there's always a discount store somewhere that's going to sell us a book, a suit or a hand tool cheaper than the independents. But how likely is it that the clerks in those big discount stores will be able to tell you anything more about the product than what it costs? And how often do you see the managers of those discount-a-ramas serving with groups like the Chamber of Commerce or local charities' boards?

Finally, how often do you get the feeling at those big chain stores that your business really makes a difference? You pay your money, you leave and if you're lucky, the cashier smiles. And if you make a suggestion, they give you the look that tells you that only a modern Don Quixote (which is to say, a nut) would propose something in opposition to corporate policy.

At the Book Store Etc., suggestions are welcome, because even after nine years, the store is still evolving, with Reed planning plenty of reading-related activities.

"After Christmas, we're going to have book clubs for kids and adult book discussion groups. We've just got to get through the holidays first," she said.

The store, located at 53 W. Washington St., will shift to holiday hours after Thanksgiving, opening from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

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