Welcome to ABA, Winston Smith Books!

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Winston Smith Books, a used and rare bookstore in Auburn, California, which joined ABA earlier this year, is the third bookstore to be featured in Bookselling This Week’s new occasional series, “Welcome to ABA!”.

Glen and Melanie Sewell, the new owners of Winston Smith Books in Auburn, California
Glen and Melanie Sewell, the new owners of Winston Smith Books in Auburn, California

Glen Sewell, a local insurance agent, and his wife, Melanie, bought the store from previous owners Fred and Karen Bernstein, who, with James van Eaton, founded the business 12 years ago; the Sewells took ownership of the store on May 1. According to Sewell, van Eaton came up with the store’s name, which recalls the protagonist of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.

“Over the last several years I’d been wanting to do more than just insurance and I thought that having a bookstore would be fun and cool, so I was kind of keeping my eye on the business listings,” said Sewell. “I don’t really have any bookstore or bookselling experience but I loved the idea of being around books and people. Now, in just the two months I’ve had the store, I’m getting to meet people I never would have met and discover books I never would have known existed.”

Sewell told Bookselling This Week he joined ABA because he “wanted someone in his corner.”

“I wanted to have the support of an organization and a community since I’d never worked at a bookstore before,” said Sewell. “Joining the association has been worth paying the small fee to have access to so many resources, like all the helpful PDFs and Excel spreadsheets on the ABA website.”

Since taking the helm in May, Sewell said sales have been meeting projections. “Sales have been comparable to what the store had been doing historically. There have been no surprises; it’s about exactly what I thought it would be,” he said.

A display at Winston Smith Books
A display of merchandise at Winston Smith Books

In the future, Sewell said he would like the store to host book clubs, readings, and meetings of such local organizations as the Lions Club and the local authors guild. He hopes to be able to offer a space for these groups to meet but still needs to figure out event logistics, he said. He is also working on clearing out the store’s back room for an office where he can do his insurance work.

Sewell said the first thing he did after buying the store was begin to reorganize the sales floor and to buy books and fixtures from Cover to Cover Books in Roseville, which was going out of business after 30 years. Cover to Cover’s mobile shelving units have been a great addition to the Bernsteins’ stationary shelving units, and have helped make the store’s 2,600 square feet of selling space much more versatile, said Sewell. The store currently stocks more than 40,000 books, with rare and collectible books making up about 10 percent of the volume, and more titles are coming in every day.

“We’ve been going through tons of books — I didn’t know we would be getting this many,” said Sewell. “I spend most of my time going through the used books: cleaning them, getting them ready to price and shelve, checking the quality and subject matter and seeing if it’s something we can sell.”

Winston Smith Books works off of a credit system for used book purchases: Sewell pays 30 percent of the resale value in store credit and half of that percentage if the person selling the book wants cash. The store gets truckloads of books each week; the most recent was a truck containing 44 boxes of metaphysical books from a local woman who spent her life studying the subject. The store donates the books they can’t sell to a local organization that supports homeless people and their companion animals.

“Right now we do have three shelves out of hundreds that are new books, but they are local interest and local authors,” Sewell said. “I would like to start bringing in more new books at some point; I have a few other projects I’m focusing on right now but within a year or so I will be ready to sign up with a distributor.”

While he is still working as an insurance agent, Sewell said he loves working at the store and can spend hours there without getting bored. The bookstore, he said, is his “happy place.”

“It’s like a vacation mentally, physically, and psychologically, although I work a lot harder at the store than I do in insurance,” he said. “Insurance is enjoyable but I feel like it’s unhealthy to just sit at a desk all day. It just can’t compete.”