In the summer of 2014 Lynn Davidson went shopping for a book and ended up buying the bookstore. Following the death of the previous owner, Joyce Kinney, earlier that year, the future of The Book Rack — now Mobile Bookseller — was uncertain.
For nearly 40 years there had been a store buying and selling used books at the same location in the Skyland Shopping Center off U.S. Highway 90 in Mobile, and it now needed a new torchbearer. Davidson, who had gone in that day to find a book to read on an upcoming family trip, had an idea.
“I looked around and thought to myself, ‘I could do this,’” she said. “My children would be going to school full time, maybe this will be great fun.”
Armed with an MBA and a passion for paperbacks, Davidson went home and made the owner an offer. Fifteen minutes later, the owner called back to accept it. Davidson was now the third owner of the bookstore since Stanley Hayward opened its doors in 1975.
But one year later, Davidson finds herself in a similar predicament.
Once again the fate of Mobile Bookseller can go one of two ways: either Davidson manages to find a buyer to take over the store by the end of August, or she will accept the terms of her short-term lease and move out. She is now making an effort to liquidate her entire inventory, more than 20,000 books, at fire-sale prices. What does not sell will be donated to charity.
What started out as a kind of family project — boxing up the books strewn on floors and haphazardly tossed in closets, rearranging shelving units, categorizing titles by genre and author, and digitizing the inventory of thousands of barcoded books — became more a burden than a labor of love.
Davidson decided not to renew the lease so she can spend more time with her three children: Pape, Cam and Claire.
“School started and [running the bookstore] was a little harder,” Davidson said. “I missed every single baseball game because I’m open on Saturdays. And that’s when the kids said, ‘This isn’t fun anymore.’”
Amid protests from her most loyal patrons, Davidson posted an asking price of $8,000 on the Mobile Bookseller’s Facebook page. With little over a month to go on the lease, she still has hope that a buyer may come along.
“I keep thinking that something may come up. I’ve had people ask me about the store, which is why I posted the price online. I had several comments from people saying ‘Oh, [I] probably can’t afford it.’ But I say, you know, you probably can. It’s probably not as much as you think it is.”
For now, Davidson’s goal is to liquidate as much inventory as possible before the end of August. Mobile Bookseller is running sales of a dollar per book through the end of July. Then, from Aug. 11-29, the store will allow people to bring in their own boxes to fill up with books at $5 per box (some restrictions apply to box size). All that is left from these final sales will be donated to various charities in Mobile.
“I have a list of charities that I’m going to call during the last week of August, and to any charity or 501(c)(3) that wants to bring their own boxes I will donate the rest of the books.”
For some, the thought of losing another bookstore in Mobile is heartbreaking. According to Davidson, the impending closure of Mobile Bookseller marks the third this year, joining the ranks of the Book Rack in Saraland and Book Stop on Hillcrest and Airport.
“About one in three of the customers are distraught about the store closing,” Davidson said. “I mean seriously upset. When I first posted that we were for sale [these customers would say] ‘No, please don’t go!’ and ‘What are we going to do without you?’ Another one in three says ‘I’m going to miss the store. There’s been something here forever.’ They’re concerned and they’re going to miss it. And the others come in and say, ‘Oh, there’s a deal!’”
If Mobile Bookseller should close next month, Davidson, a mystery-genre buff, does not take it as a sign that readership of print books is in trouble.
“People who like e-readers walk in and ask what we’re still doing here, but they walked in. At home the Kindle is great, but when I’m at the pool and the kids are going to be splashing, or we’re at the beach in the sand, I like paperbacks … People still like to hold a book in their hands.”
By Sept. 1, the problem more Mobilians may be facing is where in town to get one.