Booktique nearing its final chapter

HOLLIDAYSBURG – It’s a book lover’s dream, where you can find just about every author you can imagine, books on any topic and in every genre you can think of, and for half-price.

But for the thousands of people who have depended on The Booktique at 711 Penn St., Hollidaysburg, the dream is ending. Owner Shirley Grenoble has decided to close the store after almost 30 years in business.

“I’m going to miss it very much,” said Grenoble, who turns 80 later this year.

“It’s been a very nice business for me, and I’ve gotten to know a lot of really nice people through the years,” Grenoble said.

But a combination of things have finally come together to compel Grenoble to close the doors. They include some medical problems that, while not severe, are bothersome, coupled with the bigger obstacle that the building that houses her business is up for sale, she said.

Starting on Oct. 7, she will have a big sale, with a bag of books going for $5 a paper bag, she said. The store will officially close by the end of October. A noted outdoor sports writer who has written pieces on hunting and fishing for 42 years, Grenoble will continue to write for the Altoona Mirror and other publications, she said.

“I love doing that,” she said. “I love to write about hunting and fishing.”

Starting Oct. 1, Grenoble will no longer take trade-ins, which is what really set her shop apart, she said. Other used book shops, which have come and gone in the local landscape, accepted used books from customers and gave store credit, but Grenoble said her credit system was different. That’s why customers went back to The Booktique time after time, even though parking wasn’t easy, and her store kept going when others failed, she said.

She made it simple, giving 25 percent credit for the original cover price of the book that the customer brought in to trade. Other stores would give credit only in specific categories and/or have other elaborate systems that got complicated, which confused customers, she said.

“No other bookstore has been able to duplicate my trading system,” Grenoble said. “People don’t want anything that’s hard to understand. They want something simple.”

Grenoble kept track of a customer’s credit on index cards that she filed in cardboard boxes, which she estimated contained about 2,500 index cards. The books that people traded in also had to be in good condition, no torn or dirty covers or pages, she said. She kept the books at eye level or within easy reach on the shelves, not in bins, barrels or boxes that customers had to kneel down to rummage through, she said.

The cost of most books in the store was marked on the front cover in black marker and represented one-half the original price. Sometimes in cases where she’d received multiple copies of a book, such as in a series of romances, she may have discounted the books for perhaps five for $1. Often during the summer, she has had a sidewalk sale and put books outside her shop to attract people walking or driving by.

That’s how many of her customers first discovered the shop. Brooklyn Welsh of Roaring Spring was driving by one day about three years ago and decided to stop in to check out the books. Her mom, who lives in Hollidaysburg, had mentioned the shop and suggested she might want to try it.

Once she started going, Welsh said she made the store a regular stop when she needed to stock up on books. She said she likes to read the classics and also historical romances.

“They’re so cheap here,” she said. “I’ll be very sad when it closes because I won’t be able to buy cheap books anywhere anymore.”

Grenoble said she opened the store out of necessity. Her marriage had ended, and she had no income, no training and needed a full-time job. Her sister owned a pair of used bookstores, one in Lock Haven and another in Bellefonte. Then living in northeastern Pennsylvania, Grenoble came to work in the Bellefonte store, learning the business at the same time, she said.

A year later, she was ready to branch out on her own, and she started looking for a location to open her own store. She was driving by what became her Hollidaysburg location when the owner of the building just happened to walk out on the street. What she didn’t know is that the older man didn’t go to the lower level very often because he had severe arthritis. He only made the trip downstairs from his apartment above about two or three times a year, she said.

“He took me upstairs to meet his wife,” Grenoble said. “When I said I wanted to open a bookstore, their first question was, ‘What kind of book store?’ I think they were a little concerned about what kind of books I would be selling. But then they were fine when I told them what I wanted to do.”

She used a nucleus of books bought from her sister, built some wooden bookshelves herself in the store and hired someone else to build more shelves. She ran some ads in the Mirror at first, but most of her customers have come from word-of-mouth, she said.

Cindy Emery of Altoona has shopped at The Booktique almost since it opened, looking for mysteries, suspense thrillers and romances, she said.

“It’s one of my most favorite places to go,” Emery said. “I could spend hours in there.”

Emery, who has gone to the store for about 20 years, said she has always loved to read, and she keeps a book with her at all times. She said Grenoble has introduced her to many authors over the years.

Grenoble made it easy for people like Emery to find books in the shop because she kept it organized by category and generally alphabetized by author, Emery said.

“She is always so nice to talk to, and it’s just relaxing being there,” she said.

As Grenoble said, her shop is a rarity among bookstores. She never computerized her records, although she said some people urged her to do so, because she said it was simpler for her to keep them on index cards. At one point she tried to employ someone to help her in the shop, but it became too expensive, with the accompanying overhead costs proving to be too much for her small shop.

Above all, the abiding principle in Grenoble’s life is her belief in God, whom she said directed her to the shop in the first place.

“God has been my help and sustenance from the beginning,” she said. “None of this could have happened without him. ”