By Bruce McKinney
Every person who deals with books faces the end of their career. For most this is something remote, a future sequence of events that culminate in the transfer or disposition of a business or books. Every dealer learns in time to buy cautiously and sell aggressively. Nevertheless, almost without exception, dealers approach the end of their run with tens of thousands of books to sell and no longer enough time to sell them. For many these changing circumstances bring a series of decisions and steps that will be difficult, painful and uncertain right up until the end. The adage that it is easier to buy than to sell is as true for dealers as it is for collectors.
I have been speaking with three dealers in Ohio who are dealing or have dealt with these end of career issues. They are Robert Emerson who three years ago merged his inventory and business with Ed Hoffman of Columbus, Ohio to form Emerson-Hoffman Rare Books, Nelda Bridgeman [BookPhil] of Hilliard, Ohio and Susan Heller of Cleveland who has been doing business as Pages for Sages for more than a quarter of a century. Both women have blown out the candles on three score and ten and are not subscribing to Fulton J. Sheen's admonition that Life begins at 80. They're moving on. For Bob, at 85, he now moves ahead continuing to price, catalogue and sell knowing that many of the uncertainties of his life are resolved. For Nelda and Susan disposition lies ahead.
All three are making a life in books, in the state that is home to Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, the birthplace of writers Ambrose Bierce, O Henry, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Langston Hughes and seven Presidents, to Erma Bombeck, Bruce Catton, Hart Crane, Zane Grey, William Dean Howells, Dard Hunter and Arthur M. Schlesinger. It's a place that has always taken its writing seriously, a fitting place to be committed to the printed word.
For each books will always be an important part of their lives but the day-to-day struggles with the minutiae of selling must give way to life with more room to deal with the realities of aging. They are all in transition from front row center to back bencher. Their situations, strategies and experiences provide useful perspective for every dealer will someday face similar issues.
Nelda Bridgeman is 72 and for many years ran BookPhil on Main Street in Hilliard with her husband Stanley. A dozen years ago they parted company, Stanley to places west while Nelda continued in the book business. The decade since has not diminished her ambition although the years have slowed her a bit. She plans to sell or liquidate the business and move to Port Townsend, Washington where she'll be near both the ocean and medical care and can work on two books she would like to write. "After all these years handling other people's books it's time for me to add a few of my own." She describes her current bookshop inventory as "scholarly" and filling three buildings: about 45,000 books in all.