An Upstate New York Perspective
At 4:00 pm we are on the way to Cooperstown. We take the New York State Thruway east. The road is fast, the traffic quiet and scenery familiar to a guy who grew up in the Hudson Valley. In Cooperstown we check into the Inn at Cooperstown. Then it's dinner at Nicolettas Italian Cafe and later a walk between raindrops around the Hall of Fame village. The queen size bed is for royalty of a different century. Twentieth century monarchs hardly fit although proximity has its virtues. At 10:30 am Wednesday morning we walk into Willis Monie Books finding Wil and Willis, father and son, stacking orders to ship. There is a sense of motion to this place, a feeling not often present in antiquarian book shops. We first spend a half hour at Schneider's Bakery introducing ourselves, speaking of this writing project and about specific material. Then it's back to the shop to search the New York State shelves for books and next their extensive ephemera files. In the latter I find some gems and curiosities and sense the breadth of possibilities. New York ephemera are broken down by counties and the prices are attractive. There is simply no way not to buy here. Later we tour the place, seeing how they manage a successful book business in an era when booksellers are closing retail premises at an alarming rate. They have about 300,000 books of which 50,000 are in the shop, 70,000 on line and the balance available by appointment at their warehouse. Ephemera are an additional 100,000 to 150,000 items. I asked Mr. Monie for a description of their material and he replied, "Our strengths in paper are historical pamphlets, mostly Americana, literature and theology. In books, we specialize in baseball, Americana, literature and theology, but have a good general selection in all fields."
Material in the shop is not online, a powerful incentive to visit where significant portions of the inventory are sold without word of their existence ever reaching the net. The shop is a full day experience. Toward the end of the visit we join Wil on a tour of the upstairs where the online material is neatly arrayed on shelves, clean and antiseptic as an operating room. They list on a variety of sites: Abe, Alibris, ILAB-ABAA, Amazon and on their own site: www.wilmonie.com. They are experimenting with eBay. Listed material sold mainly on line, is no longer part of the shop's open stock although it's available in their computerized searches. On a typical day they ship around 75 items.
Location is an important factor in their success. Cooperstown is a tourist destination and the season runs from April to October. As does everyone in town they sell some baseball material but the surprise is that opera is a strong suite. This place for book collectors is "a keeper." No one goes home empty-handed. Next stop is Worcester, Massachusetts, home of the American Antiquarian Society and their ongoing endeavor to record and digitally photograph all titles printed in America from 1639 to 1877. For the collector of American printing this is Mecca and membership an honor.