Tucked into a shopping center in Vancouver, Washington—just across the bridge from Portland—is a gem of a store staffed by seven passionate readers. The space itself is low-key, with pine bookcases and old rugs and chairs, like a much-loved library in someone’s house. The staff is personable and high-energy, a lot like owner Becky Milner herself. Milner says of her staff: “If we had mucho bucks they’d all be rich and driving shiny Mercedes to work. They are all terrific with people, have incredible book memories, can type rings around me, are creative, with great senses of humor and are very flexible with scheduling.” Judging by the photos below, they’re having a grand time, too.
We asked Milner a few questions.
Year established? 1975. From home, as a mail order business. We moved to a shop in 1979, and to our current location in 1984.
Square feet? 6,000
Number of Employees? We are 7. All are family, or I wish they were family. Terrific book people all.
Store cat? Two. Dickens and Henry.
What will we find at your store that we won’t find anywhere else? Our mix. We have new books, used books, ephemera, comics, magazines (new and vintage) and postcards. Lots of color and texture. Some one-of-a-kind items, but mostly we sell everyday “stuff.” We love helping our customers find a new author—and are pretty good at matching their interests.
If Vintage Books were a book, what book would it be? The title The Old Curiosity Shop with the content of 84, Charing Cross Road. We cherish our long-term customer relations (watching young children grow and, eventually, come back with their families) and love having people come in every day saying “I was driving by and saw your sign . . .” or “Someone told me . . .” or “We just moved to town, and I’m so glad we found you.” It’s the relationships we’ve built that help keep us going. Well, that plus the fun working with the books: opening publisher boxes, displaying, handselling.
Who are your regulars? Both male and female, often on a budget, but are all over the age spectrum. Dogs or other small pets are permitted only if they can be carried.
Will you describe each of your employees in a sentence or two?
Alec is most patient of husbands for tolerating and encouraging my book passion. Not that he doesn’t enjoy keeping current on all the mystery authors he loves to share with our customers. He is also the “Left Brain” amongst us. Alec manages our internet sales and really good about following through on a project.
Tom is funny, incredibly creative and customers love him. He is our resident “Leonardo”—a man of many talents. He is also the one who brought Steig Larsson front and center to our customers. He is the master of the soft sale. Tom’s reading taste is a touch edgier and more modern than some of us and he really helps us round out our selection when we are purchasing sidelines. Tom also directs and writes or co-writes our videos, blog, etc.
Debbie manages our new books, our community outreach, Book Angels and our children’s and young adult sections. She also handles the bookkeeping (a model of patience and deciphering, there.) She reads women’s fiction and mysteries. She works with Tom on our videos and manages our Facebook & Twitter material.
Jeff is our youngest staffer and reads science fiction when he isn’t focused on his textbooks. Jeff is most happy when we have him climbing or shifting or creating space where there was none.
Chris is our behind-the-scenes Web master and manages our databases. He is magic with a computer! Chris reads science fiction, mysteries and nonfiction. If I am having trouble wording something, Chris is who I go to for help.
Pepper is the calm in the chaos and voice of reason when I get carried away. She reads “good” literature, nature writing and nonfiction. Pepper is amazing with customers, remembers everyone and has a natural gift for books. She actively promotes “Shop Local” for us. When someone comes in looking for “good writing,” I often direct her/him to Pepper’s Staff Picks shelf or recommendations.
As for myself, I’m stubborn (We’re still here, aren’t we?). I still love going to work every day. I’m involved in everything except the databases (no one trusts my typing) and manage our sidelines. I read history, mysteries, literary, business, travel. My nickname here is Shiva because I’m the one most apt to create, move or destroy a section.
What are some of the other businesses you frequent in your neighborhood? Garside Floral is across the street. Just up the road is Shorty’s Nursery and they’ve done a terrific job of marketing and working on community building.
What’s the best lunch within walking distance? Muchas Gracias. Inexpensive, yummy Mexican food.
Will you name a couple of books that have been popular handsellers at Vintage Books recently? The Stieg Larsson series, Little Bee, Agaat, Forgotten Garden, Hunger Games, Mushrooms Of the Pacific Northwest, The Cow in the Parking Lot (subtitle: A Zen Approach to Overcoming Anger). The American Booksellers Association’s Indie Next lists are great tools.
What gift items are popular at Vintage Books right now? 2011 Calendars, the Emotion Gallery Bookmarks, US Games card games have been popular with those early stocking stuffer buyers.
A CD that would make a great soundtrack for your store? It had better be a mix. At any moment you may hear Gillespie, Celtic, Nora Jones, Mozart or JJ Cale. We’re all over the place with our music. Whoever is sitting by the player gets first pick—unless someone races over and doesn’t want to hear that Greek CD one more time this week.
An adult or children’s book you love to give as gift? For kids: Anything by Boynton or in the Llama Llama series. Dover sticker books or young readers fantasy. (Funke, Clare, Colfer . . .). Adults: Hiking Washington’s History, any of the Sullivan guides, any of the new Workman Cookbooks—They have a luscious selection right now. For the traveler: World Heritage Sites. Our recent favorite to share is River House.
Will you recommend a few books?
Small, Medium & Large by Jane Monroe Donovan—recommended by Becky
“I test drove this book on a two-year-old, four-year-old, eight-year-old and a forty-year-old. All were enchanted with this Christmas fantasy tale. Almost no words are involved, so you can make it as long or short as you wish and your audience will probably tell you the story!”