Bookstores and Libraries

September 19, 2010

Sometimes I daydream about what I’ll do when (not if, obviously) I become wealthy enough to retire early and don’t have to do anything anymore. My fantasy of choice involves starting a business, specifically a bar. I know I’m not alone there; opening a bar seems to a fairly common pipe-dream for middle-class white males, if sitcoms are anything to go by.

But there’s more to my harebrained scheme than just some ordinary bar, or some ordinary theme bar, or some ordinary dive bar, or some ordinary bar with shitty loud music and overpriced drinks. No, my bar will be a little special (I think): a combination bar and lending library. I can see it now: walls lined with bookshelves, a bar lined with all sorts of whiskey and whisky, and a shitload of lamps and leather armchairs. Come in for a drink, and feel free to pick up a book and start reading. And if you’re a member, you can even check out a book and take it home with you when you leave.

The biggest complication I can think of[1] is that I’m not a big fan of James Joyce.[3] Since my target audience, one would think, would be “literate drunks”—which, I assume, means a lot of demand for, and discussion of, Hemingway and Joyce. Hemingway I’m fine with, but Joyce not as much.

So that’s my plan. It occurred to me ther other day that there are already a number of businesses following this exact business model. Not places like Busboys and Poets, where the drinks and the books are segregated pretty completely, and there isn’t even a reading room, as I recall. No, I’m talking about Borders and Barnes & Noble. Every one of their stores I’ve been to in the past few years has, to a great extent, felt like a Starbucks[5] with a huge magazine rack and even huger assortment of books for people to read while they sip their coffee. (A café-cum-reading-room isn’t precisely the same thing as a bar-cum-lending-library, but I think they’re still pretty close.)

As it turns out, this might not be the most sustainable business model. Obviously there are huge differences between a 50,000 square-foot retail space and a bar, in terms of staffing, inventory, and I don’t know how many other factors. But, since this is a fantasy after all, I’m perfectly happy with it being a money-losing venture.

* * *

[1] Of course, I’m only thinking of bullshit complications that presuppose I’ll be able to get everything off the ground in the first place. Practical considerations like money, location, taxes, getting a liquor license, employees,[2] and so on are entirely beside the point. This is a damn fantasy, after all.

[2] Having recently been to Church Key in San Francisco, I’ve had my eyes opened to what a bar can be when it’s operated by someone who’s doing it purely for the pleasure. The ability to pick the music that plays and the drinks that are served, and the freedom to close up early when you feel like going home, quite honestly seem really nice.

[3] To be fair, it’s been over ten years since I gave Joyce a chance—since I was a high school senior taking AP British Literature.[4] I gave Joyce a chance then, but it wasn’t exactly a fair chance, because I couldn’t stand my teacher, and I was happy to spite Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, James Joyce, and Shakespeare if it also meant spiting her. Time having passed, I’ve forgotten most of my grievances against her, except for one: she didn’t say “probably,” she said “parably.” (“Parably,” of course, isn’t a word.)

[4] I’ve been out of high school ten years? Apparently I’m getting old. In other news, either nobody arranged a ten-year reunion, or they did and nobody told me. So it goes.

[5] Barnes and Noble stores feature Starbucks, while Borders features “Seattle’s Best Coffee”. But of course, Starbucks owns SBC, so it amounts to the same thing.Идея за подаръкикониикониПравославни иконииконописikoniподаръци

1 Comment

  • _grisha says:

    There’s only one thing I can say to this, other than asking why you’d serve two copies of the same drink, one by its Scottish name and one by its Irish name.

    Perhaps because in my life, my obsession has been achieving my dreams (albeit mostly to find that I only thought I wanted these things); and perhaps just because I’m the entrepreneurial type; I was, unlike you, thoroughly dissatisfied with you leaving leaving this as a fantasy. I also dislike the idea of putting it off to a somewhat undefined point in the future. I don’t think it would be difficult to achieve in current reality.

    A few things to think about:

    If this is a money-losing venture, that is not a problem. You just need to find a money-making venture to offset it. But I think you’d be surprised what a big fraction of itself this could pay for. A day job could be quite sufficient as a money-making venture. See below for some clarifications.

    You don’t need to like every author you carry; people talk amongst themselves, too. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if some patrons open your mind to new things you wouldn’t have otherwise thought of reading.

    You don’t need to be serving a large sector of the population. A few die-hard regulars can make a place like this thoroughly enjoyable. Most new people wandering in will never come back; the occasional one who does will probably come back regularly.

    That, added to the fact that there are other ways to market this besides the front of your building, means you might be OK opening a place like this somewhere out in the boroughs where rent / real estate is cheap, rather than downtown.

    If you know people with money who would like an idea like this, try having them help you with startup costs in exchange for charter membership. Include charter membership perks that you think those particular people might enjoy (e.g. limited daily free drinks). If you get enough such capital, I would suggest trying to open downtown, or, if you stay in New York, at least somewhere in Manhattan.

    Die-hard visitors will make time for the experience. You do not need to be open a large chunk of the day. That means you can go to work and be open late afternoons and early evenings, perhaps only on certain days of the week.

    That said, you might not need employees at all. If you do hire employees, I’d look for people who like Hardy and Joyce. They’d complement you well.

    Nobody will come specifically for the alcohol. You do not need a full bar. If you have a non-alcoholic option, a couple of beers, and a couple of hard alcohol options, you’re set.

    You DO need to figure out what to do about people who don’t return books. A membership deposit is probably sufficient.

    Just one piece of very specific advice: I would consider buying, not renting, the building. Have your bar on the first floor, and have your living space on the second floor. If the building you find has a large living space, consider renting any part you don’t need out to roommates as this would help finance the venture. This method is also convenient in that your commute to bar is a walk down the stairs.

    I think you have an idea that could be perceived as unique (even if it’s less unique than people think) that might not make you a ton of money, but I think it would add some meaning to your life, acquire you some potentially close new friends, and just be something you enjoy creating and doing. You’d also get a lot of valuable experience.

    I say go ahead with it now.

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