On January 22, the city of Farmington, Missouri, welcomed a new independent entertainment retailer: Aesop’s Treasury Books and Games, owned by husband-and-wife duo Vince and Lisa Howard.
Vince Howard said it’s been his lifelong dream to open his own book and game store, so he saved his money, quit his job in the medical insurance field, and opened a brand new, 3,000-square-foot retail space in an old shirt factory about 70 miles from St. Louis.
“I saw a lot of the U.S. as a youngster,” said Howard. “There was a lot of moving around, so every time my family moved into a new area, the first thing I would do was try to find a bookstore and game store. That was the easiest way to meet people.”
Howard told Bookselling This Week he would like to recreate that same convivial, social atmosphere in his own store, where people can connect on common interests. The stock at Aesop’s is roughly half games, including the area’s largest selection of role-playing games (such as Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Clash of Clans, Little Fears, and Fate) and half books, with used titles making up about 99 percent.
Customers can bring in gently used books of any genre to trade for in-store credit of 50 percent off any used book. When it comes to new books, however, “We’re the only game in town,” said Lisa Howard. There is no local competition for new titles aside from Walmart, she noted, and the mega-retailer does not carry science fiction except for books associated with blockbuster movies.
In addition to science fiction, Aesop’s small selection of new titles includes books for adults, fantasy titles, and young adult books, with Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, and Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give (Balzer + Bray) all top sellers. They also make sure to stock classic family titles, like Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic and The Giving Tree, and books appearing on local schools’ reading lists.
“I think the books and games complement each other,” said Vince Howard. “A lot of folks who read by default also play games, and a lot of people who are gamers tend to like to read. The store helps people connect who weren’t aware that someone else with their interest lived in town.”
The store’s 3,000-square-foot retail space and 1,200-square-foot gaming space are separated by a foyer, where higher-priced small card games and new books are kept in sight of the counter. The game room, which seats over 60 people, is always full of customers on Saturdays and Sundays who come to play games they bring from home, borrow from the store’s demo library, or buy at the store.
“There is another game store in the area, but it is more of a Magic card game shop. We have a very large, extensive library of free games that people can come in and pull off the shelf and play,” said Lisa Howard. “It’s kind of a ‘try before you buy’ situation.”
Howard said that in the past few months, a growing number of regular gamers have been coming to the store to play role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, and a group of regulars who choose a different board game each week have also made the game room their home away from home.
Vince Howard said the store gets its demo copies at a cheaper price from the game distributors they buy from, which has been very helpful in increasing sales.
“We understand that games can be expensive, and we sell a lot more games simply by opening the box in front of the customers and showing them the content of the game,” said Vince Howard. “We can’t compete with Amazon, but at the same time people are still hesitant to buy something just by looking at a picture, so they are willing to pay a few more dollars to be able to come in and hold it in their hands.”
And some people, he said, are just excited to support their local book and game store.
Lisa Howard, who works for an oncology research journal, said she moved her personal home office to the store so she could help out her husband, who spends about 12 hours a day, seven days a week there. They named the store Aesop’s Treasury after Vince’s old e-mail address, she said, and one of the first things she did after they opened was buy him a copy of Aesop’s Fables to keep behind the counter.
“This first year, I’m going to be reinvesting every dime I make back into the store’s stock and fixtures,” Vince Howard told BTW, “but eventually I would like to become profitable enough to take a day off and bring someone in to cover the counter.”
Since the store’s opening in January, the Howards said the community’s response continues to be overwhelmingly positive. Going forward, they have four upcoming Saturday book signings planned with local authors, including one who has developed his own board game, which customers will be able to playtest at the store.