When Don Alexander opted for early retirement from the government, he started looking around for something to do.
After a career as an attorney with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), he decided that he wanted to put his love of books and his background to use. Thus, he came up the concept of opening a used book store.
Alexander opened Book Bank on West Street in May 2001. He just re-opened on upper King Street in May 2004. The new space is larger and more conducive to foot traffic.
“We’re doing increasingly well,” Alexander said. “We have a lot more people walking to and from hotels. We still have our existing clientele, but are also picking up new customers.”
Alexander said that he opened in Alexandria because he believed that the area was not well served in the used book market. The one used book store in Del Ray, Atticus Books, closed about six months ago.
“We’re the only store that specializes in used books in this area,” Alexander said. “We’re hoping to meet the needs of the community.”
MARTIN TILTON FINDS that it meets his needs quite well. A regular customer to Book Bank, he said that he’s interested in religion, Buddhism and Zen.
“I’ve gotten several good books here,” said Tilton, who’s been collecting books for 25 years. He estimates that he has about 30,000 books at his home, although he just sold a collection of 10,000 over eBay.
His collections consist of books about religion, philosophy and history. He also likes travelogues, especially about China, a country he’s been to three times.
“I’m interested in their culture, especially martial arts and meditation,” Tilton said.
Priscilla Witt and Nancy Funkhouser are the two assistant managers helping out in the store. Funkhouser thinks it’s a great place and is excited about the new location.
Witt said that while they don’t do book searches, they do keep lists with customer’s area of interest. If something comes in that matches the list, they will call the customer. She estimates that they have about 20,000 titles in the store.
Witt said she currently has requests for things like old atlases, books on Alcoholics Anonymous, certain translations and certain authors.
“People collect all kinds of things,” she said.
Alexander said that they get about a third of their books from customers looking to sell. Depending on the volume, he either gives them cash or store credit. He also purchases books at library book sales, thrift sales and from estates. They have a weekly flow of about 300 books being bought and sold. Book Bank is currently what’s known as a general stock store, in that they try to maintain a reasonable selection of most fiction and non-fiction books. They don’t, however, carry romance or western novels.
“It seems like it’s working out,” Alexander said. “For everyone who walks in the store, there’s something that appeals to them.”
Newer books are generally priced at one-half of their original value. Older books are priced according to condition and worth. Alexander uses the internet to research the value of books and says that it supplements their own knowledge.
Alexander lives in Del Ray, and while he says “no one gets rich running a used book store,” he is enjoying it.