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Reader’s Corner: 29 Years Later, a Dream is Realized

If you’ve ever listened to This American Life on WUNC, you can thank Reader’s Corner for being able to hear the program. The store known for the large selection of books for 10 and 25 cents on the west end of Hillsborough Street paid for the show to be brought to North Carolina Public Radio. Over the course of the past couple of decades, they’ve donated several hundred thousand dollars to the station from the proceeds of the books out front. There’s quite a bit more to this used book store than the inexpensive books available 24/7, though.

In 1980, Irv Coats (above) took over Reader’s Corner after it had been in business for five years. He didn’t like the name at first, but over time began to like it and decided to keep it. He had been retired (from a career as a research physicist) for a few years by that point.

For being retired, he sure stays busy. He rides a bike to work every day, doesn’t go on vacation, and works 7 days a week.

This is my retirement, and it’s better than any vacation! There will be plenty of time for lying around when you’re dead. I can’t wait to get up in the morning and come to work.

– Irv Coats, owner of Reader’s Corner

One of the more interesting things about this place are the items you’ll find on the walls. All are things that have been found in books, and range from the antique (above, a receipt from 1872), to the comical, and the bizarre. Perhaps most common are photographs. As I was asking about some of the more unique items that have been found, I happened to notice my friend Amanda in a couple of photographs on the wall. I later asked her about it, and she said that she was just as surprised to discover it while browsing some time ago. Staff members sometimes pass on the really interesting pieces to Found Magazine.

Todd Morman, local celebrity and host of Monkey Time on RTN.

Tim over at Nice Guy Syndrome recently talked with Irv about the state of used book stores, internet sales, and the effect of the economy on the individual seller:

Able to spare a few moments between logging internet sales and heading for home, Irv–sitting at his desk in the back room of the Reader’s Corner–started out by telling me, “The conventional wisdom has always been that used bookstores would thrive in a bad economy. Well, the experiment is now testing the hypothesis.” In his own case, the hypothesis is being proven correct, as his store is doing well. … but added: “Internet sales are really putting the squeeze on the brick and mortar people.”

Tim Botta

You can find some of the inventory from Reader’s Corner online too. Only about 1% of stock is available, but it’s the more expensive and more difficult to find items listed. The sales from these books often offset a period of slow business and keep the shop profitable.

The store has a few simple rules that they ask you to abide by.

I continued with Tim’s line of questioning about the future of print and the individual bookseller. I asked what the future of book selling may look like in 10 years:

Will ebooks put me out of business? I don’t know. I’ve got a kindle. I use it to read the New York Times every day, but it’s not the same.

I don’t see us changing. We’re in the business of books and the experience of it. The store is now what I always dreamt it would be when I started. It’s finally doing now what my business plan was. I’ve fulfilled it completely. I don’t intent to change it, I’ve got what I want.

–Irv Coats

He mentioned that he recently purchased the building after having to rent it for nearly 30 years. The original owner refused to sell, but was finally allowed to after ownership changed hands this year. My guess is that the recent purchase of the building was the final piece missing from the puzzle.

I said it almost two years ago, and will say it again: Reader’s Corner is my favorite book store.

3201 Hillsborough St
(919) 828-7024


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