There is a little shop up in Blackwood, New Jersey that sells old and new books. The Book Asylum is located on 26 N. Blackhorse Pike and I’ve been to this little gem several times in the last two years. My sidekick Dawn Byrnes and I are members of the South Jersey Writers’ Group and responsible for selling the group’s first anthology Tall Tales and Short Stories from South Jersey.
But, I’ve also published my book, Roof Oasis, this year. It’s the first in an apocalyptic series with a twist. As fellow member and friend describes it: Romeo and Juliet meet “The Walking Dead” written by Jules Verne. Yeah it’s good and I’ve had the pleasure of selling my books at The Book Asylum several times in the past few months.
There is something special about this little shop that also hosts a café with damn good coffee, teas and bakery goods. Yummy! And, it always feels like you entered a magical place every time you step through the door. The reason for this good feeling is due to the owners Jeff and Rosemary Moore.
Why did Jeff and Rosemary take the chance, in this shaky economy, to open their own bookstore? We find out from this delightful couple in my interview.
Marie Gilbert: “What encouraged you to open a bookstore? What led to you opening this bookstore?
Jeff Moore: “Do I have to talk, now?”
Rosemary Diepold Moore: “It was your idea?”
Marie Gilbert: laughing “Yes, please. Was it something you always wanted to do?”
Jeff Moore: “I just always liked books, but it was a weird thing. I bought a couple of books for myself on line and I thought, “This doesn’t seem so hard. What could be involved?” So, I started talking about it a little bit.”
Rosemary: “Selling them on line, though.”
Jeff: “Yes, thinking about selling them on line, what was involved, and originally I did think about selling books online. That’s the way a lot of books are sold nowadays, online, but you still have to store them somewhere. So, one day we were walking down the Pike and.”
Rosemary: “You were. You didn’t take me until later. It was like surprise!”
Jeff: “You weren’t with me the first time?” both he and Rosemary laugh. “Well, I don’t like to play all my cards at one time. Yeah, and so this was for rent, it was this side of the shop. And we talked about it, called and asked questions. Did we have books, then, the first truckload?”
Rosemary: “Not yet.”
Marie: “So you saw this store and did you know immediately? Usually a building will call to you.”
Rosemary: “That side called to me.” Rosemary points to the larger section of the shop.
Jeff: “I don’t know. This side was kind of dumpy. It was really messy.”
Rosemary: “Messy blue and white.”
Jeff: “We had the books at home and the price was right. It was pretty reasonable.”
Rosemary: “If you notice, this side is smaller and we didn’t have the back part to it, yet. It had been empty for a while so we started bringing books in without shelves.”
Jeff and Rosemary: “Well, first we met Nick and Bert. They are the landlords and the nicest people on earth. It’s sheer coincidence that we landed up here, but they are the nicest people.”
Marie: “It was meant to be.”
Rosemary: “Bert is usually at the writers’ group. She comes, but not tonight. She’s away right now.”
Marie: “So you had no shelves?”
Jeff: No, we did this all backwards. We had a truckload of books, brought them in and piled them up in here (the smaller side of the shop) and didn’t have any shelves. I saw some shelves on Craig’s list and bought them. They were shoe department shelves from Sears, and it just didn’t work.”
Rosemary: “You had to put them all together. He was here at 10:30 late at night trying to put all these shelves together and, a skunk comes and pays him a visit.
Marie: “Oh no!” We all laugh.
Jeff: “It was the summertime and I left the door open and the skunk walked in, walked around the store, then walked back out again. I didn’t do anything, didn’t move. I just sat there.” We all laugh.
Marie: “Oh my God. He may have brought you luck.”
Jeff: “I guess.”
Rosemary: “Well, it made him come to the realization that hey maybe we should look into that side,” pointing to the larger room.
Jeff: “Actually that side was occupied, but the lease was up. We decided we wanted it but it wasn’t available. Two days later we got the call.”
Marie: “How much time between the time you rented this part and the time you got the call.”
Jeff and Rosemary: “We got this side in September, but we got the other side maybe in October or November because we opened in December.”
Rosemary: “Yeah, because we moved all the stuff over to the other side and didn’t use this side at all. The owner put this side up (coffee shop side) for rent again. We didn’t do this side until a year later in order to make the coffee shop.”
Jeff and Rosemary: “This door was closed and we only did business on the other side. After Jeff moved all the books to the other side and the owner put this side was up for sale, but after this side was empty for a year, then we decided to use this place for the coffee shop>”
Marie: “Perfect! Now, does having a coffee shop here in the bookstore help bring in more people?”
Rosemary: “I think so. There are a lot of people who just come in for coffee or they’ll come in to use their lap top or to sit here and just write. We have a screenwriter who comes in. He’ll just sit here for hours, doing work.”
Jeff: “They (bookstore & coffee shop) piggyback well together.”
Marie: “How many years has the store been opened?”
Rosemary: “It’s been four years in December.”
Marie: “Are you happy with your decision to open the shop?”
Jeff: “Yes. I was a little worried about the money. It was quite expensive, but.”
Rosemary: “But, not that much more because of the extra size and the owner let us fix up this room, which was a mess, the way we wanted.”
Marie: “Besides the bookstore and coffee shop and allowing people to come in and do book signings...”
Just then Author/Storyteller/ and fellow member of the South Jersey Writers’ Group Laura Kaighn walks in to say hello. Here is Laura’s site: http://www.ladyhawkestorytelling.com/ Part two of my story of The Book Asylum will feature Laura and the writing group that she oversees there.
Marie: “Hi Laura, surprise! I’ll be interviewing you next. So Jeff, besides selling books and coffee, you began to live music here. When is it and does it help to bring in more people?”
Jeff and Rosemary: “We have music every Friday night except for the holidays. January 16th is our next night for music. For the most parts, the live music has brought in more people, but I think in time, as more people become aware, it will develop because of people coming in to hear a band they’re following.”
Marie: “Well, I’ve been spreading the news and every time we do a book signing here I mention your bookstore on my blog. I have people, like my neighbors, that hadn’t realized there was a book store up the Pike. One of my neighbors, sometimes works from home and is now thinking of taking the ride up here to do his work.”
Rosemary: “There are a lot of people that live within a mile of us or close by that come here. We had two different couples that came in today and it was the first time for both. One of them said, “I’ve rode by here fifty million times, grew up here and never knew this place was here, now I will be back.” He began asking questions about what we do and I told him about the writers’ group, the general writing, the music and that we wanted to do a Poetry night coming up soon and, we want to do an open-mic soon. He said, “You just totally described my dream, a coffee shop and a bookstore. I know where I’m going to be coming.”
Marie: Besides promoting you on my blog, I have a friend who has an online newspaper, NJ Penn. I’ll let him know about you, too. Now, do you post a schedule of events on your Facebook page?”
Casting Shadows Trio
Rosemary: “I do put it on Facebook.”
Jeff: “We’re not scheduled out right now, but do know about some of the people that are coming to perform, like the jazz group, Casting Shadows.”
Jeff and Rosemary: “Casting Shadows, a trio will be playing on the first Friday of every month starting in March. And, we have a piano duo who wants to come back maybe every other month. They stay near the front window and we have all different kinds of music from rock to country to Celtic Irish Band. If anyone wants to know, just call us up (phone # listed on Facebook page) and ask who will be featured for each Friday night.”
Clan Suibhne Celtic Irish Band
Marie: “You can also send me the schedule and I’ll share it on my Facebook page and Twitter.”
Jeff: laughing “We don’t know how to twitter.”
Marie: laughing “Will, I do and I’ll spread the news. Rosemary, I have a question for you. When Jeff said that he wanted to open a bookstore, what was your first reaction?”
Rosemary: “Well, because it’s not the main source of money at first I thought he was doing it for a retirement plan because when he first got all the books, he realized that he still needed a place to store the books. It wasn’t helping us having all the books at home. So, that’s when he, on his own, started looking around and then he took me and said, “Look!” and I said, “Yes....?” There were sheets on the windows and it was for rent. He said, “So what do you think?” I’ said, “About what?” He said, “A bookstore!”
Marie: “Were you nervous?” We are all laughing.
Rosemary: “I was surprised, but it sounded like a neat idea and at first it was a part time idea because we both worked. When it got to the point that it was safe enough for me to leave my job, we opened up full time and it was definitely worth it doing that.”
Jeff: “It’s been two years that we were able to have day hours.”
Marie: “Rosemary, people do identify with you being here all the time.”
Rosemary: “Yes, he’s never here because he is always working.”
Jeff: “I’ve moved on.”
Rosemary: She and Jeff are laughing “That’s what he thinks.”
Marie: “Jeff, tell me more about your book restoration, because that is very interesting. It’s so important.”
Rosemary: “That’s a side job, and again, it is a side job, but we would go to Virginia and he would take classes. He has been doing this on the side, but eventually he’ll do more.”
Jeff: “I want that to be my retirement job.”
Marie: “Did you have to buy special equipment to do book restoration?”
Jeff: “I’ve been buying tools and stuff for the last two years, maybe longer. We have a lot of old books and they have value, but not enough to send them out to be fixed.”
Rosemary: “That’s what made you start when we wondered what to do with the books, was it worth fixing up and getting the money back. But he said, “If I learn to fix it up myself...”
Jeff: “It was my time and I liked doing it. It was a no-brainer.”
Rosemary: “He just did one and it was the History of the Bible. It was from 1868. A customer found it in the trash it had no front cover. The restoration was to take it down to just the actual pages and restore it using the techniques I learned at CatTail Run Bookbinding classes over the past several years. We were both very pleased with how it turned out and our customer donated it to his church.
Marie: “Well, it’s important to let people know that you can do this, especially if this will be your retirement job. There are a lot of people who have old books.”
Jeff: “Yeah and people will just show up and not know that we do.”
Rosemary: “I have people calling up asking if we know someone who does book restoration and I say, “Yeah.”
Marie: “I’ll get the word out for you.”
Jeff: “It’s enjoyable to do, so yeah.”
Marie: “So this bookstore was a good life choice decision for you both.”
Rosemary: “Yes, but this side, the coffee shop, made it work. I worked in a Deli and in Customer Service. I like working with food. This doesn’t have all that yet, but maybe someday. That’s the plan, but the coffee shop and bookstore work well together.” Jeff agrees.
Marie: “Well, I do know that, after going to your chain coffee shops, I feel that I get better service here and Rosemary will even offer a free tray of cookies or slices of cake whenever I’m doing a book signing here. Rosemary, you make people who come into this place feel so comfortable.
I know from experience that it is nerve racking to do book signings, because I have to be “ON” all the time and sometimes I’m not feeling my best, but when I come here, you make us feel so comfortable. That’s why Dawn and I love coming here and it doesn’t matter if we didn’t sell any books that day, we are having fun hanging out with you and Jeff.
Rosemary: We are in the process of starting book clubs and also story time with children,” pointing to Laura. “Laura is a good storyteller. I just want to have different things going on.
Jeff: “People have been asking about Poetry, too.”
Marie: “One of our members, Jord Fox, does poetry and he might want to do something here, like a Poetry Night.
Jeff: “Let the poets in your writers’ group know about this and we can get something off the ground with this. Plus, I do have big plans in the works for our bookstore, but you’ll have to come back and interview us in three to six months to find out what it is.”
Marie Gilbert: “I can’t wait to find out the big secret in a few months, but for all my readers out there, drive or take the 400 Patco Bus to The Book Asylum on 26 N Blackhorse Pike for one hell of a great cup of joe, plenty of books to buy and, great service. Here is their Facebook Site https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Book-Asylum/127684793971983
I’ll be doing part two of The Book Asylum’s Writing Group in a few days.