Two Generations in the Book Trade - Looking back with the dealer’s daughter

- by Susan Netzorg Halas

An early Cellar Book Shop catalogue.

Small is Beautiful

My own goal is to have few or no books within the foreseeable future, and certainly to have no more big books by the end of this year.


Thinking of my own current ambitions I am reminded of the story of the two brothers, both well known West Coast dealers, who not long ago successfully closed their business. In a time when many traditional dealers were going broke they came away as rich men.


How did they do it?


For starters they were wise enough to own a commercial building in a desirable urban location and to sell it at the top of the market. Over the years they amassed a huge reference collection and found an eager home for it at a major American university. They owned good books and even at going-out-of-business prices they sold well. They closed up shop and totaled the profits.


But the story doesn’t end there. Within a very short time both brothers were back in the book business.


Today Brother #1 one owns no inventory at all. He was lured back by his old clients. He is now an ‘advisor’ who buys and sells and negotiates for others. In this capacity he’s busier than he wants to be. He is doing as well or better now as a solo act with no books, no shop and no workers than he did as the well heeled partner of a large and famous store. 


Brother #2 waited a little while and then he also went back into the book business. He took a seven figure number from his share of the profits and bought about 200 books. They fit onto the shelves of one side of a small room that is now his office. I talked to him last year when he too was doing even better than before.


Neither man has a web site, puts out a catalog, employs a staff or complains about Amazon. Both men started with nothing, learned as they went, knew when the game changed and think small is beautiful. And so do I.


Susan Netzorg Halas can be reached at