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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Beer, booze...and books?

By Steve Siciliano

Let’s play a little trivia.

Before Siciliano’s Market began selling beer and wine-making supplies, before there was the walk-in humidor, the extensive inventory of craft beer, the wide assortment of coffee and bulk tea, the nice selection of premium wine, the collection of pipes and pipe tobacco, the cheese-making supplies and, finally and most recently, the flour mill and the bread making supplies, which of the following items could one find upon stopping in the store?

      • Spaghetti-o's
      • Lottery tickets
      • Dirty magazines
      • Used books
      • All of the above
Give yourself a gold star if you said all of the above. When I bought the store nineteen years ago the first three items were inherited, all part of the mix. We sold a lot of dirty magazines and lottery tickets back then but, I have to admit, I can’t recall ever selling a single can of spaghetti-o's. The sad truth is that other than the raunchy magazines, the lottery tickets, and a rather paltry amount of mass-marketed beer and hard liquor, we didn’t sell much of anything. Those were the lean years, the dark ages of Siciliano’s. In an effort to get more people coming through the doors, I thought it would be a good idea to use the vast amounts of open space (yes, believe it or not, back then we had lots of open space) to sell used books. There were more than a few people who thought I was crazy and they were probably right. Working twelve-hour days and being constantly worried about paying the bills can make you a bit daffy. But my admittedly bizarre attempt to establish a used book store within the structure of a “party store” wasn’t sired solely by desperation. I had always thought that it would be wonderful to own a bookstore.

In view of the direction that the store has grown, there’s little doubt that it’s fortunate that the used book thing didn’t work. But in recent days while watching customers browse through the dozens of titles displayed on our new, beautiful, custom-made book racks, the thought suddenly occurred to me that because our recent expansion has allowed us to build and properly display a rather respectable and sizable book inventory, I guess that means in addition to everything else that the store is—a homebrew shop, a craft beer store, a tobacco shop, a wine shop, a specialty foods store—it can now also be called a bookstore.

Ever since we began selling beer and wine making supplies, we have always carried and sold a good amount of books related to those wonderful hobbies. (I’m not going to suggest that we have made John Palmer rich, but I am quite certain that we have contributed nicely to his children’s’ college education.) Over the past few years, however, we have been steadily adding titles that focus on the growing interest in “how to” subjects. The problem was that because we had to squeeze these books into our already cramped space, they were scattered throughout the store. It wasn’t intentional, but we were treating our book inventory as an afterthought, rarely if ever giving it the attention it deserved.

That has changed since the expansion. All the books are now in one location, and a prime location it is, up towards the front of the store. There, on the aforementioned racks, one can find the books on beer making and wine making in addition to those on cheese making, bread making, cider making, mead making, ice-cream making, yogurt making, sausage making and even soap making. Believe it or not we have a book on how to make dog treats. We have cookbooks, books on curing and smoking meats, books on canning, books on gardening, books on whiskey and books on bee keeping. We even have a New Age novel written by an unknown local author.

It feels wonderful to have a bookstore and I have a feeling that our inventory of books will continue to grow. I think we have enough room for one more of those beautiful, custom-made racks.

Steve Siciliano is "an unknown local author". His first novel Putting Butterfly Wings on the Thinker is now available at Siciliano's Market in Grand Rapids, MI.

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