Books on James
Books and Melodies
Movie posters for La Dolce Vita and Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train hang in a large window of Books and Melodies bookstore, and customers entering the store take a trip back in time to a pre-digital age marked by an abundance of physical material. Countless used books, records, DVDs, VHS tapes and old magazines pack the store, sitting in boxes on tables and lining shelves that stretch to the ceiling. Five glassed storefronts extend the length of the building, dividing the vast collection of media into sections housed in different rooms.
It would seem impossible to find exactly what you’re looking for here. But owner Jon Goode, 39, maintains a system of organization. “You just do the subjects. Nonfiction by subject. Fiction by alphabetized. After a while it gets to be like your bedroom, you know where everything is.”
Goode is tall and thin with dark eyes and dark brown hair; he wears a worn gray T-shirt, olive-colored jeans and a beaded bracelet on his wrist. He sits at a table in the front room of the store, flipping through books stacked in a pile and jotting down prices in pencil as Simon and Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair plays over the stereo speakers. In between scribbling prices, he puts the pencil behind his ear, chats with customers and gives instructions to a young woman who stands behind the counter.
A native of central New York, Goode has owned the store since 2011 and worked there for two years previously. When the owners decided to move away and sell the store, Goode felt compelled to buy it, even though it wasn’t something he planned to do. “It was a big decision,” he says. “I’m Generation X. I don’t like a lot of responsibility. But it just had to be done. It was just something I couldn’t say ‘no’ to.”
Goode says if he hadn’t bought the store when he did, the owner would have held a “fire sale” and all of the merchandise would have been sold or discarded. “I just didn’t want the place to be emptied. It’s a special place.”
He calls the store one of the “keystones of the neighborhood” and expresses pride in the sense of permanence it represents. “This isn’t gonna disappear into the magical cloud they got going around now,” he says.
Goode also loves the freedom of being an independent bookstore owner. “I mean, really, every customer is my boss. I don’t really have anyone to answer to except each person that comes in.”
He says shoppers enjoy getting lost in the aisles and discovering surprises, “finding things they didn’t know they wanted.”
Goode says running the business on his own—with only a few volunteers to help him— can be challenging at times. He works up to 50 hours a week and stays busy even when the store is closed, shelving books and working on improvement projects like painting.
Because the store buys, sells and trades merchandise, Goode must decide what to accept and what to reject. “People are bringing in stuff, so you’ve got to get a feel for what to buy, because you can’t just buy everything because there’s only so much room.” He says over the years he’s learned how to buy items and give fair prices for them.
In addition to books, movies and records, the store offers an array of what Goode calls ephemera—old magazines, maps, comic books, movie posters and more. In a back room some examples sit in milk crates resting on round tables.
One of the strangest items is a document preserved in plastic reading, “Certificate of Discharge Because of Physical Deficiency.” The paper is signed by a physician at a Syracuse military board and lists the name of a man residing on Salina Street. It’s dated Aug. 6, 1917.
For Goode, physical objects like books and magazines possess an almost spiritual power. “There’s a lot of energy in these,” he says, picking up a book that rests on a table. “There’s also the tactile element, you know, you can hold something and the batteries won’t run out and you’re not gonna blast your eyes out looking at a digital screen.”
Despite the dominance of online retailers like Amazon, Goode believes the store can remain financially viable in the future. “Business goes in peaks and valleys. Over five years, I think it’s on a very slow decline, but nothing serious,” he says.
“I have faith. People always like to come here, whether it’s to buy something or not. Usually people end up grabbing something. We’re kind of the only ones who do what we do around here.”
And as for whether he will be able to continue making a living as an independent bookstore owner, Goode says, “I do what I do. Why worry about that, you know? We’ll come to that bridge when we get to it.”
Goode, who graduated with an art degree from the State University of New York at New Paltz, does not consider himself an entrepreneur or a businessman. “I went to school for painting and drawing. I just kind of fell into this.” But he gives some advice for anyone who might want to start his or her own business: “Do what you have a passion for. Don’t do something just cause it’s gonna make money.”
Books End owner Jim Roberts, 57, has grayish-black hair and glasses and he looks tired as he sorts through a stack of books and types information into his computer. He and his wife, Ann Marie, bought the store in 1987, and it specializes in rare, used and out-of-print books.
With approximately 3,000 square feet of retail space, Books End holds more than 50,000 books on site. The floorboards creak as customers stroll through the narrow aisles and scan the wooden shelves stacked with books. The variety of categories includes mystery, science fiction, literary fiction, history, biography, military subjects, art books, gardening books, self-help and dieting and children’s and young adult books, etc. In addition, the store has vintage magazines, ephemera and postcards.
Roberts says the store’s eclectic tastes appeal to consumers. “I think the allure of a used bookstore is that you don’t know what you’re gonna find when you walk in. It’s a great place to browse because you can come here a hundred times and it will be different every time.”
On this night a college-aged woman appears excited after locating a novel she was searching for; she smiles as she carries it to the counter to pay. An older man wearing glasses and a hat leafs through a collection of nostalgic postcards, while a young couple and their two toddlers, one tucked in a stroller, roam through the aisles and converse in hushed tones.
Most of the inventory is listed in the store’s online database, and Roberts continually works to catalog items that come into the store. Roberts says a lot of people discover the store online, even people who are local.
Books End buys books from customers who have estate or moving sales, or from people looking to downsize or cull their book collections. The store is also a third-party seller of books on Amazon and AbeBooks.
The oldest books in the store date back to the 1600s; most of these are of a religious nature, according to Roberts.
Some antiquarian hardcover selections include a physician’s home health guide from 1860 and Leo Tolstoy’s Sebastopol, published in 1887.
Before owning the store, Roberts worked in the restaurant business. Now his job satisfies his passion for books.
“I’ve always been a book person, and it is a perfect opportunity for me to be around books every day without having to own them all,” he says. “We rent them for a while.”
But Roberts says running a bookstore involves a lot of work. “Sometimes when people ask what I do for a living, I don’t say ‘I own a bookstore.’ I tell them ‘I carry boxes of books around.’ It’s a surprisingly physical job to haul books all over the place.”
He says the financial challenges of managing a bookstore are no different than owning any small business.
“We don’t have the purchasing power of a giant, we don’t have the advertising power of a Barnes and Noble,” he says. “We don’t make enough money that I can rent or buy a store the size of a supermarket and put in a million things, so you’re always trying just to balance the costs of running a business and trying to figure out the pricing of the inventory so that it’s fair and attractive to people without being so small that you don’t make a profit.”
And as for Books and Melodies, located just down the street, Robert says the two stores have a lot of crossover. “I know there’s lots of people who go to both of us.”
He also believes used bookstores work better in concert, and “the more there are, the more books that are out there, the more readers that can be drawn to the area.” He adds, “You know if we’re a little bit different, then you come to Eastwood and one of us should be able to make you happy.”
For sales associate B.J. Menter, Books End possesses a special meaning. She was a loyal customer before she started working at the store in April 2014.
Menter’s husband died a few years ago after suffering a long-term illness. During the period when he was being treated, she would stop in the store and buy books to read to occupy her mind while sitting in waiting rooms. “This was a little oasis of peace and happiness and sanity,” she says. “So this bookstore became very important to me and really unbeknown to them helped me through a very difficult time.”
Menter processes book orders and helps with shipping, stocking and customer service. She says she loves the clientele of the store. “It’s near and dear just somehow being around kindred book spirits.” She says she was inspired by the story of “a young mother who said that she didn’t read much in high school and now she wants to read to her children and encourage them.”
Menter smiles when reflecting about the store and says, “I don’t want to get whimsical but I find it kind of magical.”
Books and Melodies
2600 James Street
Syracuse, NY 13206
Hours: Wednesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
2443 James Street
Syracuse, NY 13206
Hours: Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.