HASKELL, Texas (AP) - What happens when a person walks through the front door?
“They go, ‘Ahgg!’” Martha Jarred said and laughed. “We tell them not to be overwhelmed, it’s more organized than it looks.”
Maybe that’s a tall order. Inside the Henderson Book Store, you’d swear there’s more books than floor space.
Paperbacks fill shelves from the middle of the room out to the walls. It’s all arranged by genre and author; books that won’t fit in a case are stacked in front of the shelf they would occupy if there was room.
It’s a delicate operation walking between the stacks. One wrong twitch and you’ll wonder if the St. Bernard sent to dig you out will be carrying brandy or Dr Pepper around its neck.
“People just bump into them, because some of them are stacked precariously,” Martha told the Abilene Reporter-News (https://bit.ly/1xUcXPM). “They walk by, ‘Oops!’ and there it goes. It just happens.”
So, how many books do they have?
“Several thousand,” she answered.
Her husband pointed to one of the blue bookcases in the center of the room.
“One of those shelves will hold, depending on the size of the books, between 900 and 1,000 books,” he said.
But that’s not counting the stacks on the floor, or the piles in front, or the books you can’t see.
“I would not be surprised, especially with what’s in the back and everything, I’m sure there’s over a million books in this building,” Kenneth estimated.
Now, that’s a lot of ink.
“I hate to quantify it,” Martha confessed, laughing. “I always just say ‘several thousand.’”
The shop is open from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, or by appointment. Customers come from as far as Big Spring, though most seem to visit from neighboring counties.
Arthur Henderson, Martha’s father, started the bookstore in 1975 at another location on the south side of town.
“He was a carpenter and after he retired, he started the bookstore,” she recalled. “That was actually always his dream, it’s what he wanted to do.”
Arthur loved running the store. Visiting with customers and meeting new ones never got old.
“After he passed away, we kept it going,” Martha said. “But we had to keep the name in honor of Dad.”
They moved the store to its present location about 15 years ago. The building at 3 Avenue East was known once as the Jones and Cox Hardware Store, constructed in 1905.
What do people read? Westerns are popular, as are romances and adventure stories.
“I have one claim to fame,” Martha said. “I have lots of Christian fiction and really more so than a lot of other book stores.”
But if you can’t judge a book by its cover, neither will you guess what a customer wants just by looking at them.
“I was by myself and one guy came in. He got off his motorcycle - he looked real tough - I thought, ‘Oh, no, I wish someone were here with me,’” Martha recalled.
“I was kind of scared, and then he said, ‘Do you have any children’s books?’”
She laughed at the memory, then took a can of furniture polish and squirted a blob onto a book cover, rubbing it in with a rag.
“Fingerprints,” she explained.
When they moved the shop over, Martha said they didn’t have nearly this many books.
“No, we’ve about quadrupled,” she said. “We do have new books, but most of ours are recycled.”
Customers bring in the books they don’t want and get credit toward their purchases.
“It works out like two-for-one,” Martha said. “Lately, it’s a problem, but a good one. We have people who are cleaning out their parents’ houses and bringing us their books.”
She pointed to several stacks near the front door. The books will be sorted, cleaned and, if they aren’t copies of anything already in the store, will go on the shelves.
Comfy chairs are scattered through the store, small lamps rest on tables beside them.
“People are always encouraged to come and spend the afternoon, because once you start digging you find all kinds of treasures,” Martha said.
“We used to have a couple of ladies who would do that,” Kenneth added. “They’d just come in, sit down in front of a pile and start digging through it.”
At the back of the room is one of those piles, a huge stack of books that Martha says is bound for another bookstore elsewhere. All the paperbacks are duplicates of what she already has on the shelves.
“I’ve got one little lady that comes from Munday, she likes to rumble through the pile,” Martha said. “So we just bring her a chair and let her do it.”
Jean Dillard of Hamlin stayed away from the big pile. She pulled up her chair to one of the bookcases and, consulting a multipage list in her left hand, compared it to the books she held in her right.
“I find a favorite author and then I stick with them until I run out of books,” she said, explaining her system. “I mark off the ones I’ve already read.”
Dillard said she comes at least four times a year to the store, searching for her favorites.
“I like westerns, mysteries and romances. I like trash,” she said with a full laugh.
“I want something that will put me to sleep at night, not keep me awake.”
When Dillard’s mother was alive, the two of them would shop with Martha’s father.
“She liked to read as well as I did, so we would come and trade books way-back-when,” she reminisced.
She admitted to adding two more book cases in her home, even though on this day she had books to trade.
“I think one of these days I’m probably going to get too old to come,” she said.
She figures by then she will have plenty to reread.
“To me, if it’s a good book, if it’s something that you like, then it’s a friend,” she said. “It’s worth keeping.”
Information from: Abilene Reporter-News, https://www.reporternews.com
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