Support Your Local Bookstore: Plotz Used Books (Waco, Texas)
Support Your Local Bookstore: Plotz Used Books (Waco, Texas)
On January 3, 2011, Waco welcomed another bookstore to town: Plotz Used Books. Located at 1300 Lake Air Drive, Plotz features a healthy selection of high quality used books at half price as well as a coffee bar, the Plotz Totz children’s section, and a special gift section with an eclectic collection of items. Store hours are 10-7 Monday through Saturday and 12-6 on Sunday. In addition, you can buy selected books from Plotz online at Half.com. Recently, founder and co-owner Jarrod Harelik, who is a partner in the independent publishing company Wide Array, talked with us about the creation of Plotz, his background, and his goals for the store.
What made you decide to start Plotz Used Books?
I’ve wanted to start a bookstore here in Waco for years. When I was in grad school, my teachers would recommend specific books to me, and though there are some good stores in town, I couldn’t always find what I was looking for. I used to live in the Dallas area, where there are some used bookstores big enough for you to get lost in books for a while; I wanted something like that here. It just took a while to make it happen.
How are things going at Plotz after being for open two months?
Things are great at so far and we’re going strong. People seem really happy with the store, and our favorite compliment is that we’re clean and organized, and that our books are in excellent shape. We’ll continue to expand by adding more shelf units, and this will allow us more room for books.
What specific need/audience do you see it fulfilling here in Waco?
For the last three years, I taught English at McLennan Community College. Teaching is great, but I also learned that many college kids aren’t reading enough. Many students don’t even read the newspaper. Students who don’t read have more difficulty with their writing, and their grades are lower. Their worldview is limited, and so are their futures. I’m not saying that starting a used bookstore will change all that, but at least a good bookstore in a good location helps to promote the idea of reading.
How’s the response been for Plotz from selling books online?
Online sales have been good. Selling books online can be a little tricky, because most books do not sell well online. Luckily, I’ve been selling books online since 2005, way before we opened the store, and so I’ve gotten pretty good at knowing what will sell online and what won’t. In fact, online bookselling is what led me to the bookstore; I’d go around buying books at garage sales, looking for “gold” to sell online. Most books I collected were not “gold” and would not sell online, so my personal library continued to build. Eventually, the wisest thing to do was to start a bookstore.
Incidentally, our online collection of books can be accessed through our web site. I should also mention that Plotz is setting up a subsidiary for digital books. These ebook offerings will be created with the intent of straddling the digital and brick-and-mortar world.
What’s your background with books?
Books have always been a part of my life. When I was a kid, I was really into the Encyclopedia Brown series, and I’d order these books from the catalogs they’d pass out at school. It’s embarrassing to admit, but one day when I went to class I found my order of four EB books under my desk, and I was so excited I almost peed my pants. I tell you this to illustrate how much I like books, but I probably shouldn’t have started with that story.
What do you like to read?
I like fiction and nonfiction, but I didn’t seriously study fiction until after I’d developed an interest in writing. I had a knack for writing, but I was kind of writing in a vacuum. Pretty soon I realized the importance reading has as a way of developing writing ability. At that point, I got into literary fiction, and that’s what I focused on as an undergraduate and graduate student in my creative writing classes.
What are you reading now?
As a bookseller, books constantly surround me, and I can cherry-pick what I want to read. Everything that comes in to the store interests me now— I wish I could just sit in our comfy chairs here at the store and read all day, but I can’t do that. I read as much as I can, though. Right now, I’m reading about organic gardening, because I’m a raw foodist, and it’s tough to find good raw fruits and veggies around, so my plan is to eventually grow my own. I’m also reading a dog-training book, and I’m reading A Wrinkle in Time.
How has being a partner in Wide Array inform your perspective as a bookseller?
Around the time I started grad school, I started a small publishing company with a good friend and former college instructor named Daniel Reid. Under Wide Array we published a couple of literary anthologies, and doing so gave me a deeper sense of how books are put together. More importantly, I got some much-needed business sense. Let’s face it: I’ve got an MFA in creative writing and so does Daniel, which is why we were publishing literary anthologies instead of—to be frank—more salable material. I’m proud of the work that went into those books, but at the same time, I got a quick dose of reality in terms of what most people will actually buy.
Wide Array is currently in a state of suspended animation, but the digital books arm of Plotz mentioned above will become the new incarnation of Wide Array, of which Daniel Reid will continue to play an integral part.
And you used to teach as well?
Teaching taught me about people, and I guess if you’re going to run a business, you’ve got to know something about people. When you’re teaching in front of a classroom of students, the real you comes out. Knowing a little more about myself has given me confidence to run my bookstore, to visit with customers and to work with our employees.
You have a couple of partners, right?
I co-own the store with my mother and my stepfather. I had my business plan lying around for years, and I knew I needed at least one partner to do the store the way it needed to be done. One day my parents just got it in their heads that they wanted to go in on it, and that’s when we really pushed to make it happen. My stepfather, Barry Phillips, is a medical doctor, and my mother, Hanna, is a former massage therapist and aerobics instructor. They’re both great partners, because we each have unique strengths and complement one another well.
What’s the most surprising/unexpected thing you’ve see or had happen since starting Plotz?
I’m surprised and overjoyed by the supportive attitudes of everyone who hears about the store. People genuinely want the store to do well, and that says a great deal about people’s good nature and desire to see their community thrive and grow.
I don’t know the future of our little bookstore. Whatever happens, it was worth the effort, and worth the risk. Eking out a living is important to me, but just as important is doing something I feel is positive for others and for myself. People respond to positive vibes with positive vibes, and that’s a lot of fun to see.
I’ve completely stopped molting. Molting is fine for birds and other creatures, but humans shouldn’t do it. I’m happy to no longer be a molter.