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Mr. B’s Bookery saved by customer
KINGSTON — One day, Danya Simkus walked into Mr. B’s Bookery in the business complex off Highway 104, and found her favorite bookstore was going out of business.
With an armful of books, she approached Bill “Mr. B” Wiley, owner of the store, and asked if there was anything she could do to help. Wiley opened the store about 15 years ago, but has been having health problems the last few years.
“I just really wanted to keep the bookstore open,” Simkus said. She hadn’t intended to take over as the owner; she recently signed a book deal and had some health problems of her own. But several community members met at the store a few times to talk about taking over the store for the Wileys.
In the end, Simkus, her fiancée and writing partner Rik Scott, and the Wileys’ son Jeff became co-owners and plan to reopen the store mid-June.
“I just sort of rolled up my sleeves, called up Bill, Mr. B, and said, ‘Let’s just start,’ ” Simkus said.
Jeff Wiley said he thought about running the store himself, but when Simkus approached the family, they all decided a partnership would work.
He said his dad knew the store needed some new energy but wasn’t able to do things like build a website, which Scott is working on.
Simkus said they’ve already uncovered some treasures in the inventory. In the automotive section, Simkus said she found a book from the 1890s on how motors work. She also found a first-edition book by Margaret Mead, the noted anthropologist.
The three are also squeezing the store back into its original location. Over the years, the store expanded into two storefronts, but the new owners of The Kingston Bookery — the store’s new name — are decreasing their footprint. A new restaurant, The Ax Handle, is moving in next door.
Simkus said they are remodeling the bookshelves, putting in new flooring, and are looking for an electrician (hint, hint). She said she’s also received a lot of volunteer effort so far, and hopes to have more volunteers help run the store.
Scott is also a writer, and “mad in love with books.”
“Imagine a couple of writers in a store full of books, what could be better than that,” he said. Scott was president of the Fremont branch of the California Writers Club, and hopes to start up another cooperative effort in Kitsap. He recently moved to Kingston to join Simkus, who’s lived in Kingston for 15 years.
“When I heard [Simkus] wanted to help bring the bookstore back to life, I of course got immediately interested in it,” he said. “It was too good to pass up.”
Simkus said she’s also received a lot of help and support from other used bookstore owners, in Silverdale, Poulsbo and Port Townsend.
“All this talk about people closing down bookstores, it’s mostly because people [have been working] for 30 years, and there’s nobody to jump in, but they should,” Simkus said.
“There’s a real community of people taking over the used bookstores, and it’s really exciting and everybody’s really helpful to each other,” she said.She and Scott said they have retail experience, but have never owned a business before.
“Rather than worry, [I said to myself] what can I do this week and this day, and before I knew it the rock was rolling down the hill,” Simkus said. “And it was great. I found out I was really good at it.”
Scott said the big bookstores and e-book business has “taken a bite out of brick-and-mortar bookstores,” but used bookstores are proliferating.
“I know a lot of people who love the feel, the smell of a paper book,” he said. He in fact has an e-book reader, but says he doesn’t get the same experience as a print book. And, he added, a lot of people can’t afford e-book readers or don’t want to be online.
“We’re counting on both serving the community and in a way served by them,” Scott said. “The best thing [the community] can do is come in when we open, and start the Bookery habit all over again.”
Wiley said the store will continue to take trade credit — books for books — and they will be revamping the children’s section.
“I’d just really like to thank the community,” he said. “It’s been amazing how many people have been pulling for the bookstore to reopen.”