Greetings & Readings: Books Plus an Array of Specialty Merchandise

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In 1969, the Baum family opened Greetings & Readings book and card shop in a 1,800-square-foot space in a Towson, Maryland, strip mall. Over the years, the business has grown to fill a 30,000-square-foot space with books and cards, sports memorabilia, Crocs shoes, custom balloon designs, Lenox tableware, Lladro porcelain, Swarovski crystal, Vera Bradley fashions, Webkinz, Yixing Chinese teapots, Book Sense Gift Cards, and more.

Greetings & Readings, which moved to the Hunt Valley Towne Centre in Baltimore County, Maryland, two-and-a-half years ago, is now co-owned by the founders' son, Steven Baum, and his brother-in-law, Stephen Spund.

Baum told BTW that Greetings & Readings is the largest independent bookstore in Maryland. The store's array of specialty departments feature merchandise selections that have been refined over the years. Many new products have been stocked at one time or another, some are still sold, others aren't, but books have remained a constant.

Baum recalled merchandising efforts that did not endure. "We once sold microwaves, computers, and other electronics," he told BTW. "We also had a restaurant, with all homemade food and baked goods, for about 12 years. The headaches from that outnumbered those from every other department combined. Now we have a cafe with free WiFi, and great coffee and desserts, and it works extremely well."

Each of the 100 plus employees of the store works in a specific department. According to Baum, staff members who sell handbags don't blow up balloons, the cafe servers don't fit Crocs, and only booksellers sell books.

"What makes our bookstore distinctive," Baum said, "is our staff. They know books, they care about books, and they care about the customers." He has high praise for the manager, buyers, and dozen or so booksellers. "They make the bookstore happen," he said.

Greetings & Readings is always full of activity -- trunk shows for women's fashions, balloon deliveries, twice-weekly story times, weekly author appearances, and more.

"We like to feature local authors, and we are involved in other events, such as the Book Bash on November 5," Baum said. Book Bash, he explained, is an annual benefit for Literacy Works. This year, headlining the group of 50 authors is actor Michael Tucker, whose book of travel essays, Living in a Foreign Language: A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Love in Italy, is a July 2007 Book Sense Pick.

The store's array of diverse and intriguing products, Baum said, requires approximately an hour to peruse, and then an additional hour is needed for the book section. The Greetings & Readings website, which provides details to facilitate in-store shopping, is undergoing a complete redesign. The new site will contain more information for shoppers, including increased content from Book Sense.

"We already post the Book Sense Bestsellers Lists," Baum noted. "We also want to post the [Book Sense] Picks lists and other content. One great thing about being an independent store is that we can change things all the time -- and we do. --Nomi Schwartz