Our Store in the Democrat and Chronicle

Our first major article has been printed and, lucky for us, it’s in the Democrat and Chronicle, which is widely read in the Rochester area. It’s going to be in the ‘Our Town’ insert which is found primarily in the Webster/Penfield copies. We’ve used the handy copy-and-paste feature so that everyone can read the article on here. If you’d like to share the article go to this link and click ‘share’ at the top to email it to your friends and family or put it on your facebook page! Here is the article:

Rare and used bookstore opens in Webster

“WEBSTER — Ask 27-year-old Jonathan Smalter what he’s most proud of in his bookstore, and he’ll probably lead you to the rare book room and point to a first-edition copy of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

The book, priced at $3,500, is by far the most expensive item in Yesterday’s Muse.

Smalter’s used bookstore opened in December on West Main Street in the village of Webster. The store has several rare books and thousands of regular used books, from genre fiction to literary fiction to books on local history.

The store has the crisp feel of a new bookstore. Every book has a price tag. Tables of books are scattered throughout, and Smalter changes the theme of each table every couple of months.

In honor of spring, he now has tables for sports books, cookbooks, gardening books and Christian books (a nod to Easter).

Smalter’s girlfriend, Kristine Rinebold, handles data entry, promotions, customer inquiries and aspects of the store’s Web site. She also contributes to the bookstore’s blog.

“We’ll call her the Jill of all trades,” Smalter said. “She’s kind of amazing.”

The bookstore even has a resident tabby cat, Ophelia Paige, who recently wandered in as a stray.

While the physical incarnation of Yesterday’s Muse was born during a recession, Smalter has been building his bookselling career online for years. The Webster native started buying used books at garage sales and library sales when he was a philosophy major at Nazareth College. He began to learn what sorts of books would sell well on the Internet.

“I sold books out of my closet,” Smalter said. “I bought a ton of stuff and I was wrong about a lot of it.”

Some books sell quickly online for a decent profit; other titles have too many copies available on the Internet and are harder to sell, he says.

With time, Smalter has developed an eye for which titles are worth his while.

Smalter got into the book business as a teenager. The first job he ever held was unrelated: He worked as a dishwasher in the Chinese food department at Wegmans

ut Smalter’s mother encouraged him to find a job that wouldn’t send him home smelling like soy sauce and grease, and since he knew someone working at Webster Village Used Book Store, he applied for a data-entry position.

Store owner Tim Ryan hired Smalter, who was 17 at the time. He worked there for three years.

Then he sold books out of his closet for a time. And after graduating from Nazareth in 2003, he moved home and sold books out of his parents’ attic.

He had accounts with Amazon Marketplace and abebooks.com, among others. Eventually, he started Yesterday’s Muse as an online-only store.

Now he has a 15,000-book collection. About half of the books are displayed in his store; the rest are in storage. They’re almost all for sale online.

The trick to Smalter’s business, he says, is maximizing the different strengths of online and in-store sales. Books that don’t sell well on the Internet, such as popular fiction titles, fly out of his store.

Obscure titles might fetch a profit online, but could sit on a store shelf for months.

Gardner J. Ryan of Irondequoit was driving down Main Street a couple of months ago when he noticed the sign for Yesterday’s Muse.

“I thought, my goodness, there’s a bookstore I haven’t been in,” Ryan said.

Ryan says he’s impressed with the store’s clean layout. He’s also sold 12 boxes of books to Smalter. Ryan’s personal book collection once included about 3,000 titles, he said, though he has cut it by a third.

He’s told all his book friends about the store and has brought people in to see it, he said.

Trish Corcoran and her 4-year-old daughter, Eva Nielson, are two regular customers of Smalter’s store. Although they live in Ontario, Wayne County, they do a lot of shopping in Webster.

Corcoran was excited to discover Yesterday’s Muse.

“I was brokenhearted when Brown Bag (Book Shop) closed in the city,” she said, referring to the Monroe Avenue store that shut down last year.

Corcoran, who is in a book club, enjoys used bookstores because she can buy book club books that she may not normally have bought on her own, and she doesn’t have to spend a fortune.

She says she can afford to buy her children books more often at Yesterday’s Muse.

Her 12-year-old son, Bjarne Nielson, is also an avid reader.

And Corcoran enjoys getting store credit when she sells Smalter some of her own books.

“It’s nice to recycle your books,” she said.

“Books that I’ve enjoyed are going to another home rather than collecting dust on my shelves.”

STVEALE@DemocratandChronicle.com

Hope you enjoyed the article and to see you at the store sometime soon! Visit our website at www.yesterdaysmuse.com for information on how to contact us or to browse for a book or two.

My first blog

This is my first foray into the world of blogging. I decided to start this blog as a way to organize my thoughts, share who I am and what I do, and provide myself with something to do when I need a quick break from work or life in general.

Before I dive into all that, though, I suppose it would be helpful if I introduced myself. My name is Jonathan Smalter. I’m 27, and I live and work in Webster, New York, which is just outside of Rochester on Lake Ontario (about midway between Buffalo and the Thousand Islands). I grew up here, went to college here (Nazareth College of Rochester, majored in philosophy), and I currently run my own business here. It’s called Yesterday’s Muse Books. We sell used and new books, both online and in a new storefront that just opened up in December of last year. I know what you’re thinking — how is he making that work, given the current economy? Well, that will probably be a blog entry unto itself. For now, I will just give a rough outline of what led up to it.

Way back when I was 17 (I can’t believe how long ago that was now…), I got a job at a local bookstore. I had been working at the Chinese food department of our local grocery store, washing dishes. A step up, I would say — books don’t leave one smelling like grease and soy sauce. Well, I ended up loving it. Seeing all the interesting titles come in, seeing people excited to buy them, learning what sold and what didn’t, and why… it was all fascinating to me. I had always loved books, something for which I owe my grandmother great thanks. Stay tuned for a separate blog tribute to her, as well — she was an amazing woman, and unfortunately passed away in 2007.

Fast forward a few years — I’m attending college at Nazareth. Originally I studied communications, with an intent to pursue a career as an editor, or perhaps a journalist. The draw of the complex ideas of philosophy, though, pulled me in, largely due to the efforts of a particularly skilled professor. Again, a blog for another time. In any event, the more I studied philosophy, the more I discovered about myself, and the more I realized that occupying a rung on someone else’s ladder wasn’t for me. I needed to build one of my own. Luckily, my years at the bookstore had already prepared me to do what I believe I was made to do. What was better, my degree in philosophy shaped my view of life in such a way that I knew exactly how I wanted to do it — I didn’t want to just sell books, I wanted to share ideas, and inspire new ones. At the risk of sounding repetitive… a blog for another time.

So, I started selling books online, literally out of my closet. I bought books at garage sales, estate sales, ongoing library sales… anywhere I could find them cheap. I bought a few supplies. I kept everything in the closet of my apartment, a pretty crummy one that I shared with three friends who also attended Nazareth. I was so wrapped up with the work, though, that I barely noticed. Since then, I have slowly grown my inventory, slowly improved the quality of books I sell, and slowly honed the way I sold them. In December of 2008, after almost 7 years of selling online, I opened a store in my hometown, right on Main Street in the heart of the village.

The front entrance of our store, decorated for Christmas.

The front entrance of our store, decorated for Christmas.

It’s been a crazy ride so far, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Along the way there have been ups and downs to say the least, and you’ll likely be able to read about most of them. I can’t find the quotation at the moment, but I vaguely remember reading somewhere that a man can’t truly write his autobiography until he is dead… probably Mark Twain or someone with a similar flair for the absurdity of life. Writing this, though, I have to say that while there is truth to that, I have also realized that writing about one’s life can play a great role in how it is lived, and how much it is appreciated.

I hope this hasn’t been too long-winded for the blog format. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time. All the best until next time.

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