When local residents walk into a chain bookstore, it appears as though they are being treated to an impressive display of variety. According to Susan Barile, proprietor of “Books at Croton River,” their shelves can often contain more clutter than content – especially when compared to an Independent outlet like hers in Croton Falls, New York.
“My husband and I travel the world looking to sell and buy books,” she says. This resonates in customers who are hungry for things that they won’t necessarily find in Border’s, she adds.
Books on Croton River boasts a variety of both foreign and university presses, which yields strong selections, in among other things, American History and contemporary world literature. Situated on Route 22N on the way to Brewster, New York in an old warehouse over the Croton River, buyers thinking of taking a look will first enter a room filled with an array of softbound books. Through the double white doors that leave the paperbacks behind, an enticing little shop invites the curious to explore up and down its shelves.
Don’t expect a cup of coffee and enter with an open mind because, “If you come in looking for something particular, you’re not going to find it,” she says. On the other hand, she adds, “If you come in and browse for a while, you’re going to find something you didn’t even realize you were interested in.”
And there’s help on the way if your interest is piqued enough to pull out your wallet. “There’s very little hand selling in the corporate setting,” says Ms. Barile, referring to the lost art in which the seller can give the customer background information about the book that is not just limited to price and location.
That’s not to say buyers don’t welcome pricing information on books that generally run between 40 and 60% off. Discounts are derived from “hurt books,” which are slightly damaged and sold directly from the publisher. Again, most are university presses but they also carry many titles from more commonly known publishers, such as Abrams, Farrar and New Directions. “It’s an odd lot of books,” she says. “You might find one at 50% off one week and it won’t be there the next.”
“Books” carries used titles at lower rates but also contains stock that will fall into the category of rare or collectable. These carry the price tags to go with them. All this results in a clientele consisting of college professors, writers, artists and professionals who hale from all over the world.
The bookshop by the river has been Ms. Barile’s arena for the last eight years and books in general – without the whitewater – for the previous 16. She grew up in the Bronx and earned her teaching degree from Georgetown. After returning from the Bronx to teach high school English for a year, she began attending Hunter College full time to complete her master’s degree.
Part-time work at a bookstore in Manhattan would ultimately leave her an undergrad forever and immersed her in a world of books that eventually led up stream on the Croton River. After working in several Manhattan bookstores, Ms. Barile intended to open up her own store in New York City but bigh rents eventually drove her north.
The warehouse easily doubled as a wholesaling location and a few months later, opened for public consumption one day a week. “We’re always working here,” says Ms. Barile, but that’s not just because success has now opened their doors three days a week.
“We have a steady stream of customers from all over the world,” she says. While she sees no reason to create a worldwide behemoth of stores, one can remain very busy and operate quite effectively with the web. “The internet has helped independent bookstores, particularly ones like mine,” she says, “where I’m selling things that aren’t so easily available.”
Still, she says, it’s a very hard business to operate in and she’s not worried about all the surrounding open space, which prompts her supporters to question if she’s afraid of being overrun someday by a Border’s. “Not at all,” she says, “the more stores, the better.”
Rich Monetti interview of Susan Barile