Couple sells out of store, on Internet
She was tempted to write a note saying, “You know, if you walk in the front door, you’d get 20 percent off.”
Krantz, 65, and her husband, Will, 70, have sold their used books over the Internet from a 140-year-old storefront at 218 W. Milwaukee St. since 2001.
The couple bought the space for storage but opened it to the public for limited hours four years ago.
“It really was just a matter of unlocking the door,” Will said.
The store has proved a success: Two years ago, less than 5 percent of the couple’s sales came in through the front door. That’s increased to about a third.
The couple began selling used books in 1998, shortly before Kathy’s retirement as a teacher. When books crowded them from their Eau Claire area home, they decided to move closer to family in the Chicago area.
“We just took a ride,” Will said. After a night in Janesville, they explored the downtown and happened upon the building for sale.
Kathy recalled moving here on a more than 100-degree day in July. Four trips in a U-Haul, back and forth—and that was just for 10,000 books.
“A big part of this business is just schlepping books around,” Will said.
The building has allowed the couple to triple their inventory.
Will describes the bookstore as a sort of “book junkyard.”
Inside, shelves fill the narrow space. A reading area and tin ceiling give a cozy feeling. A wooden slide over the stairs shoots books into the basement.
The collection includes cookbooks, juvenile literature, science, self-help, philosophy, world and labor history, gardening, and sailing.
Titles include “A Guide to Opera for the Perplexed,” “The Global Assault of the Forests,” “The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell” and “The Complete Book of Composing.”
When Will saw the “The History of Hell” at a recent sale, he was delighted to snap it up.
Both Kathy and Will favor different kinds of books.
She likes children’s books, with their illustrations and artwork. Children’s books have become the mainstay of the business.
He likes technical books, some of which have hand-drawn pencil drawings.
“We buy whatever is odd and interesting for us,” Will said. “The History of Hell”—that’s really neat, a good title. I’m still pleased we ran across that one.”
While the store hours are limited, the couple are there more than they’re home. So, if shoppers are in the neighborhood and see the lights on, they are invited to knock.
“I’d just as soon be here as home,” Will said. “I can’t wait to get here. I hate to leave at night.”
Will enjoys the store and the face-to-face contact with fellow book lovers.
He hears people talk about their love of books and the knowledge within; of their smell and their feel.
“The book store sort of encapsulates that, as opposed to books online,” Will said.
“You can tell people who know bookstores. They disappear. They might be here for two to three hours.
“We have to check the store before we lock it up.”
Shopping for used books
Milwaukee Street Used Books, 218 W. Milwaukee St. is open 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. But if you see an open sign or the lights on, just knock on the door.
Owners Kathy and Will Krantz do not buy books from the general public but instead buy them at sales around the Midwest.
Book prices in the store begin at about $2 with an average cost of about $6.
The average cost of a book they sell on the Internet is about $14. Kathy Krantz uploads the titles onto five different Internet sites that charge a 20 percent commission.
Conversely, people shopping at the store get at least a 20 percent discount, depending on how long the book has been on the shelf.