Nicola's Books Marks 15 Years

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Nicola Rooney with author Randy Wayne White at a recent store signing for Deep Shadow (Putnam).

Fifteen years ago, Nicola Rooney changed careers, and "total chance" brought her into the book business. She had spent more than two decades as a chemical engineer, but when her employer was bought by a German company and her position was transferred to Europe, Rooney wanted to stay in Michigan. Her husband had a business of his own, she said, and her new employers "didn't understand that therefore I wouldn't go work in Germany for five years."

At the same time, Rooney learned that an Ann Arbor bookstore, part of the Little Professor franchise, was for sale. She asked a Canadian bookseller friend for advice, and Rooney said the bookseller's prediction -- "You'll love it, and you'll make absolutely no money" -- has, for the most part, been accurate.

Undeterred, Rooney bought the bookstore and opened under a new name, Nicola's Books, in 1995. "It has remained profitable each year," she said.

This Saturday, Rooney and her staff will celebrate the store's 15th anniversary with an open house and wine and cheese party for customers. "The customers are wonderful," Rooney said. "The customers in general are what make this business good."

Another aspect of bookselling she likes is the evolution of the children's and young adult market. Rooney has expanded those sections of Nicola's several times, and watched the category grow. "The quality of children's chapter books and YA has really improved," she said. "It's a good area."

In addition to children's books, the store has had success with out-of-print book services and sidelines. "That's an important part," she said.

Rooney, who has seen many nearby stores close in recent years, isn't making any predictions about what the next 15 years will bring to Nicola's Books. But she's sure of one thing: she will not be the store's owner in 2025. "I'll be too old by then," said Rooney, who will be celebrating her birthday at the store's party on Saturday. --Sarah Rettger