Evanston resident Bob Hughes had spotted the books in his previous visit to Market Fresh Books, a secondhand bookshop in Evanston's downtown that uses a unique book-by-the-pound pricing system to provide deep discounts on books.
Returning to the store May 7, he took the books – Howard Gardner's “Leading Minds” and “Action Learning” by Michael Marquart – down from the shelf to the front of the store, where owner Paul Frischer placed them on a scale.
At $6.99 a pound – the pricing formula the store applies regardless of literary stature – the cost of the two books totaled $7.29, roughly 10% of what they would have commanded at full-price retail.
“Pretty good deal,” Mr. Hughes said.
Mr. Frischer and his wife, Susan Frischer, are co-owners of the bookstore, located at 700 Church St., kitty-corner from the Evanston Public Library.
The store was largely successful through its first 10 years.
But the Frischers, Evanston residents, say their costs have risen significantly in recent years, throwing into question whether the store can continue operating.
The couple launched an Indiegogo campaign a few months ago, a move that other independent bookstores such as The Book Table in Oak Park, have made to successfully raise funds.
Market Fresh's campaign, which recently closed, raised only $855 toward the $60,000 the store had set as its goal.
The Frischers are now looking at other ways to generate support, including offering “I support Market Fresh Books” mugs for people who make donations of $100 or more at the store. (The novelty candies at the counter – Pixie Stixs, Beeman gums, and Goldberg Peanut Chews – could serve as incentives.)
People can help in other ways, they said, including writing reviews on Yelp, Google or any other platforms, which can lead others to the store.
Running a used bookstore is generally not considered a lucrative business, and booksellers are usually “not motivated materialistically,” the Frischers acknowledged in their Indiegogo message.
“In Market Fresh’s case, despite the building ownership's support and goodwill toward us over the years, we are in a large space with a prime location, and our rent has more than doubled,” they noted. “Every other expense to the business has increased as well. We find ourselves at a crossroad and need to survey the community. Is our used bookstore an asset to Evanston and an ingredient contributing to the cultural fabric that is unique to our City and even the wider community? Or could another business or national chain step in and fill the void if we decide it’s not rational for us to keep the store open?”
The store is hoping to draw support from its customers who in the past have expressed their appreciation for what the store contributes to the community.
Market Fresh draws from a diverse customer base, pointed out Ms. Frischer.
“We have regular customers who come in here sometimes daily, looking for a book, or just perusing because they are the type that loves to find something,” she said. “Then we have the Northwestern professors who will actually recommend kids to come in here for books that they have been asking them to read for their classes. We get the Northwestern kids who just love reading and will come in every once in a while, like at the end of a semester when they finally can read a book they want.”
Ms. Frischer said the store also receives visits from out-of-town Northwestern University parents who show up with lists after dropping off their kids on Parents Day.
“We used to have a store like this in our town,” the owners often hear, “but it closed a long time ago.”
The store also benefits the community in lesser known ways. Market Fresh has a relationship with a number of local school PTAs, allowing parents with those organizations to bring in books they no longer want and trade them for credit.
Stopping in recently, Vicky Mertz, a Washington School parent, said the school has made good use of the program.
“So if I need a ‘Magic Tree House’ book, because we don’t have any – and they’re super popular – I know I can come here and find ‘Magic Tree House’ books and get what I need,” she said. “It’s kind of a perfect thing. They [Market Fresh] probably get books from us they don’t need.”
The store recycles books it does not use, paying extra costs to see they are recycled properly back into pulp or paper.
Ms. Frischer said she and her husband made that decision early after going around to libraries that had book sales and to different thrift stores, and seeing books discarded along with other items, eventually ending up in landfills.
Mr. Frischer, an avid reader like his wife, admitted that he has heard criticism of yhe system of selling books by the pound the store uses as somehow violating accepted standards.
The reply to the criticism is, “We think it makes sense. We’re just trying to get good books to people at low costs,” he said.
Actually, selling by the pound is only a starting point, he said. The store has designed the pricing and rotation strategies to get the books out into the community.
“If books linger in the store for more than a few weeks, we mark them down to 50% off the weighted price. If at 50% off they still are not snatched up, we reduce them to 99 cents.”
Bestsellers such as “The Life of Pi,” “Unaccustomed Earth,” a collection of short stories by Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri and Homer’s “Odyssey,” neatly alphabetized, were among the books that had made the journey from books-by-the-pound to 99-cent status.
As for the book-by-weight formula, Mr. Frischer pulls down a mint hardcover copy of Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s recent novel, “The President is Missing” – full retail price $30 – and places it on the scale.
The verdict? $11.81. “That’s more than 50% off what’s full price,” says Mr. Frischer, pleased.