- Associated Press - Saturday, March 19, 2016

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - The way Janis Starcs, owner of Caveat Emptor, talks about the history of central Eurasian studies soon may be the way his customers talk about the established secondhand bookstore in downtown Bloomington as it enters its final chapter this August.

“You learn that history is never over,” said Starcs, one of five book-lovers who opened the store in 1971. “The past is never ‘always the past,’ and the things that happened hundreds of years ago can still be remembered. They’re still very much alive.”

To the outsider, Caveat Emptor may look like a bookstore offering scholarly books with the occasional cluster of pulp science fiction novels. But what actually pads the store’s claustrophobic back rooms so thickly that it blocks the traffic noise of the downtown square is not a collection of rare tomes or antique hardcovers.

It’s a literary map of Starcs’ varied interests over the years, and when the store’s lease expires this August, they may soon become the interests of another intellectual.

“The last few years have been fairly difficult, and have been getting progressively so for a variety of reasons,” Starcs said. “I wanted to have the kind of books I wanted to browse, and I’m not sure to what extent that mirrored the actual Bloomington public, but that was sort of the ideal I had espoused.”

It’s an all-too-familiar story. Changes in the bookselling business, such as the increased use of e-readers and Internet shopping, have decreased the store’s revenue as its expenses have increased. People used to think of a room full of books as comforting, Starcs said, but that sentiment has passed. Readers just aren’t building up libraries like they did 40 years ago. In addition to the changing literary zeitgeist, the local implementation of parking meters and a transient population uninterested in the burden of moving a library has fostered the store’s decline.

“I don’t completely understand the psychology of it,” Starcs said. “When I grew up, books were regarded as precious objects.”

The rooms of books at 112 N. Walnut St. are but a sliver of the store’s estimated 80,000 volume inventory. It’s a growing collection - formed by Starcs and his colleagues as they haunted bookshelves in Indianapolis - that has traveled with him since his formative years. Born in Latvia in 1943, Starcs and his family immigrated to Indianapolis with the help of a Lutheran minister and the Lutheran World Federation. At age 7, Starcs quickly learned English, and by the time he finished high school, he knew English better than 99.8 percent of the population, according to his standardized tests.

“I was chattering like a magpie within months of coming here,” Starcs said. “I love the expressive possibilities of English. American English is quite happy to borrow from German, English, French, Yiddish - all kinds of languages - to add particular bits of expressive nuance to people’s communications. I think languages are fascinating, just as a mirror in looking at the world.”

Upon his arrival at Indiana University, Starcs found he had a hard time focusing on one particular assignment each semester. His interests were just too varied, and they pulled him in too many directions. Soon, his attention was drawn to the town’s lack of a secondhand bookstore, and in 1971, he set up shop near campus on Fourth Street. In the era of Ralph Nader’s ascent and rampant consumerism, Starcs said he and his partners named the store Caveat Emptor, or “Let the Buyer Beware,” and had an inventory that included black light posters and incense.

After a landlord grew concerned about the building’s foundation supporting the swelling inventory, Caveat Emptor sold its fringe items to White Rabbit and moved to 208 S. Dunn St. After about a decade in which rent climbed to the level of a downtown property, Starcs and the owners decided to inhabit just that. Starcs says he can still feel that move in his joints 23 years later, and he’s not looking to do it again.

“We thought about moving, because it’s expensive downtown, but I’m getting old, and I don’t know about moving that many tons of books again to set up in a new establishment without knowing if my clientele will follow me to a less-visible location,” said Starcs, who turns 73 today. “One way or another, I’m going to be tired come fall.”

If Starcs doesn’t find a buyer for the business and his gargantuan inventory, he says the store probably will reduce its hours and have what he calls an epic sale.

He’ll continue to serve as steward of the remaining inventory, which will likely join the trickle of online sales he currently uses to supplement his store’s business, but it’s his hope that his days are spent pursuing his original interests.

There’s a library at his home that has felt neglected, free concerts to attend at the IU Musical Arts Center, archived periodicals to read at the local libraries, a reading chair at home in need of replacing, missives to pen concerning politics or history, and one thing he felt he hasn’t done much of in his 45 years as the store’s owner - just hanging out.

“I expect there will be a feeling of loss when it’s all said and done, but I expect I’ll have a way of filling it up,” Starcs said. “I’ll never be bored as long as I’ve got my books and my music. Boredom is a character flaw. I really believe that. The world is too interesting to be bored.”

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Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times, http://bit.ly/1R1BOoU

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Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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