Edgerton bookstore to benefit education, not booksellers

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Neil Johnson
Thursday, September 19, 2013

EDGERTON—If you sell books, you can't conquer Amazon, and Kindle is probably going to knock you down in the dirt.

Russ and Jan Veitch know this.

Yet even as local bookstores founder, fizzle and disappear—victims to a growing number of online companies that make it easy buy and collect books digitally without ever picking up a paper copy—the Veitches are opening a bookstore in downtown Edgerton.

Just not the old-fashioned way.

Instead, the retired couple plan to operate their new bookstore, Edgerton Books and Art, outside the loop of a books-for-bread business model. Russ, 69, and Jan, 68, said the store on Fulton Street will operate as a sort of nonprofit where most of the books are donated and then sold at a reasonable cost.

“We're not selling a book to put dinner on the table. That's not what this is about,” said Russ, an Edgerton native and Bowling Green, Ohio, resident.

In fact, the Veitches won't operate the store. Instead, volunteers from the Edgerton Alumni Foundation, a local group that helps fund education causes in Edgerton, will run the shop.

Part of the profits will pay rent for the storefront, which the Veitches own and have renovated.

The remaining proceeds, the Veitches said, will be used by the alumni foundation to help support educational programs in Edgerton.  

Russ, a former psychology professor at Bowling Green State University and a former president of the Edgerton Alumni Foundation, said he used his royalties as author of a psychology book to establish an endowment for undergraduate psychology research.

“Jan and I have thought for years, 'Why not try that on a local, public-school level? Why wouldn't it work?'” Russ said.

“There are so many great teachers in the local school system, here. Each of them might have remarkable, workable ideas. Unfortunately, ideas don't pay for themselves. Resources have got to be there,” he said.

In recent years, the Edgerton Alumni Foundation has helped fund such causes as the Edgerton High School technology department's fuel-efficient vehicle program and a computer literacy and job-seeking skills program for displaced former General Motors plant workers, the Veitches said.

If the bookstore can pay for itself and generate extra resources for the alumni foundation, it could be a boost for simple ideas in education, Russ said.

“Say a teacher just wants to take four or five kids to the opera in Chicago on short notice, but a rental vehicle costs $300. Does that idea just never get brought up because the money is not there?” he said.

The Veitches invested their own money in the downtown storefront that houses the bookstore. They've renovated it, painting the walls in hues of asparagus and Scotland green that offset the white tin ceiling, and refinishing the original, honey-colored hardwood floors.

The shelves that line the floor are loaded with 13,000 titles ranging from history, nonfiction, classics, art and music and children's books. 

Lately, people have been bringing in boxes of 80 to 100 books to donate, the Veitches said. Now, the quest is not so much to find books but to build a core of volunteers who can help run the store consistently.

Plans are for it to open during the day Thursday through Saturday. The bookstore will open Friday, Sept. 27, a day ahead of the Edgerton Sterling North Book and Film Festival, an annual event that brings national authors into Edgerton.

“We don't have a clue what to expect, but we're hoping that it (the bookstore) catches on in a community where reading seems important to people,” Jan said.

Russ said he'd like to see the store work like a former bookstore that operated out of a garage in Edgerton when he was a kid. He used to visit that store and pore over the magazines and books. The books there were priced so reasonably that even a broke kid could afford them.

 “I remember how fascinating it was to walk in somewhere and just be surrounded by books and to know you could actually afford to buy them,” Russ said. “I guess I just want to give people that.”

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