Less bitter, more sweet: Delavan bookstore closing after 18 years

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Samantha Jacquest
Monday, July 29, 2013

DELAVAN–Creaky floorboards, antique furniture, floor-to-ceiling shelves and even two quiet cats make Bibliomaniacs a classic brick-and-mortar used book store.

Located at 324 E Walworth Ave., Bibliomaniacs opened in December 1994 and has seen celebrities, musicians, countless regular customers and a few random wanderers. It is one of those places that cannot be replaced by online shopping.

But just like thousands of bookstores around the country, Bibliomaniacs is going out of business. It will close its doors in downtown Delavan for good at the end of August.

According to Eco-Libris, a website dedicated to research in the book industry, more than 1,000 independent bookstores closed between 2000 and 2007. In 2011, the American Booksellers Association had 1,900 independent bookstores as members, compared to about 2,400  in 2002, The New York Times reported. The trend in independent bookstores is evident, and Bibliomaniacs is part of it.

Owner Gerry Mosher said he is not upset about closing the store because it has been difficult to keep it running the last couple years.

“You don't need a brick-and-mortar store anymore because you can buy books online, and that really cut into the foot traffic,” Mosher said.

When Mosher and Gary Lenox, a librarian at UW-Rock County, opened the store, it was Lenox's retirement plan: Mosher would manage it until Lennox reached retirement;  then Lenox would handle the book side, and Mosher would handle the business side.

After the two owned the store for two years, their plan was dramatically altered when Lenox died unexpectedly.

Mosher inherited the business -- with all the furniture, thousands of books and the building -- and decided to keep it running.

In its first 10 years, Bibliomaniacs flourished. There was a 15-foot Christmas tree and a total of five cats through the years. The store hosted musicians playing old-fashioned Victorian music and Broadway songs, authors coming in to talk about their books and librarians needing a place for gatherings. At its height, Mosher said, the store had about 25,000 books in its 4,000 square feet.

Jeanene Welker has worked at Bibliomaniacs for 16 years and is the only other employee. Among the most important aspects of the store, she said, were the customers, and not just for business. They brought character and have provided Bibliomaniacs with a rich history.

John Mahoney, who played Martin Crane on the television show “Frasier,” owned a house on Delavan Lake and would stop in every couple of months. Shel Silverstein, author of “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and other books, would stop in when visiting his sister who lived in town.

But even more noteworthy than celebrities were the regular customers.

Mosher said that regulars drove from Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha and even Illinois to see what they could find. One customer was always looking for biographies of movie stars, and she and Mosher would reminisce about old movies.

“You really get to know a lot of people,” Mosher said. “We've seen kids grow up. There was a little boy who loved Pinocchio that came in, and he's now in college. I remember when his mother was pregnant with his sister, and now that little girl is in high school starring in musicals.”

As online shopping and its competitive pricing emerged, however, local businesses took a hit.

In 1998, Mosher started selling books online, which was easy and profitable at the time, he said. But as the web gained momentum, both in-store and online sales were affected.

Mosher will continue selling books online part time while finishing his culinary arts degree and trying his hand in restaurant management.

“The thing about having a brick-and-mortar store is browsing, and going online, you lose that,” Mosher said. “We've always said we're a place where you come to browse and see what you find. You don't come looking for a specific book.”

Another disadvantage of online selling, Mosher said, is that customers lose the atmosphere of a cozy shop with antiques and pets.

Mosher said the books and antique furniture came from yard sales, bookshops, auctions and people calling up to offer odds and ends. Whatever doesn't sell by the end of August will probably go to auction, and whatever books are left will be sold online, he said.

Everything in the store is 50 percent off, and Mosher estimates that more than 9,000 books are left in the store. He will have a sidewalk sale with $1 books and other deals during Delavan Daze on Aug. 9 and 10.

For Mosher, closing  the store is less bitter than sweet. He said it was great while it lasted, but he accepts the fact that the time to close has come.

“You always want to give it one more chance, but then you have to accept that it's not worth having a physical store,” Mosher said. “Selling online is more difficult than it was 10 years ago, too. But that I can do without having to open the doors and maintain a store.”

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