Susan Bachrach sits on the bench that looks right at the facade of Moby Dickens, the bookstore she started with her late husband, Art, almost 30 years ago. She’s got a polka dot balloon in one hand. A book in the other.
Susan watches as a young mother leads her two boys through the front door of the shop. Her lips curl upward and she squints her piercing blue eyes in an enormous smile. “I could sit here and watch people going in there forever,” she says with warm sincerity.
At 78, Susan and her family are now out of the booksellers game. In a whirlwind few weeks, they sold the bookshop to a Dallas couple, who bought the place on little more than a whim, and who are eager to carry on the legacy the Bachrachs started.
The mom and pop store is changing hands in an era when the independent book shop is quickly succumbing to threats from digital competition like Amazon and eBooks. But Jay Moore, who bought the business with his wife Carolyn Moore, insists shops like Moby Dickens can maintain their niche by appealing to ardent book lovers and maintaining an excellent level of service.
‘More joy than you can imagine’
Art and Susan Bachrach relocated to Taos from the Washington, D.C., area in the early ’80s and promptly opened the doors of Moby Dickens (the name was Art’s idea, Susan says). Susan and her friend, Jerri Glover, cleaned out the north room of the historic John Dunn house in 1984 to make way for Moby Dickens’ first books.
Over time, the bookstore expanded to included the west side of the house and the upstairs. The store sought to carry a wide variety of titles, with an emphasis on regional topics and local authors. The store also includes a selection of rare and out-of-print titles.
Susan says the decades spent surrounded by the works of great writers were downright blissful. “It has brought us more joy than you can imagine,” Susan says. “I love to put something into people’s hands that I know they are going to enjoy.”
Susan says Moby Dickens sought out employees who had a deep love of books and of reading, and who showed an eagerness to share that love.
Just over a year ago, the Bachrachs “quietly” put the business up for sale. Art died in late 2011, and Susan says running the store “wasn’t any fun without him.”
The business was advertised only enough to attract the right kind of buyer, Susan says — namely a buyer who would continue to run it as a book shop. “My greatest fear was that someone would come along and say, ‘I’ll pay you twice what you’re asking and I’ll have the moving van in here tomorrow to clean this place out,’” Susan says.
Moby Dickens was a labor of love for the Bachrachs, who opened the shop after Art had retired. It wasn’t a scheme to supplement their savings. “Do not run a bookstore if you’re looking to make $1 million,” Susan says. “Just try to break even. Those are the good months.”
In the last few years, running a successful book shop has become even more challenging. Online retailers offer titles at rock bottom prices, and the rising popularity of eBooks poses a direct threat to shops like Moby Dickens. Susan doesn’t mince words when asked about these new mediums.
“You wash your mouth out with soap,” she says at the mere mention of the word “Amazon.”
Moby Dickens’ new owners, Jay and Carolyn Moore, came to Taos from a Dallas suburb.
Jay Moore, 38, was working in a corporate office that was, in his words, “sucking my soul.” When the company was bought out, Moore says he took a severance package and started shopping around for a job or business opportunity in New Mexico.
A broker pointed the Moores to Moby Dickens. The family showed up one evening when the shop was closed. They peeked in the windows and both fell in love.
“We don’t even need to go in,” he and his wife said to each other. In a matter of weeks the deal was closed.
An online listing for Moby Dickens put the price of the business at $150,000, including $105,000 of inventory — about 12,000 books. The listing said the store had an annual cash flow of $50,000 with a gross income of $620,000. Another Internet listing put the original asking price at $250,000.
Moore admits he was initially wary of the idea of owning a bookstore in the Internet age. “Everybody said we were insane,” he says with a laugh. “I just felt in my heart that it was the right thing.”
Moore says he plans to update parts of the shop’s business model — new bookkeeping, possibly an expanded online presence. But he insists most of Moby Dickens will stay the same. Small businesses rely on excellent customer service and a good experience to compete, Moore says. That will be their focus.
The well-known resident cats, Tony and Mabel, will stay. The felines were even listed as assets in the legal agreement.
“We really want to respect what Art and Susan have done here,” Jay says. “It’s not just a bookstore. It’s an icon in Taos.”
Susan says she’s thrilled to pass Moby Dickens on to a young family willing to keep the doors open. And she insists letting go of the store is not bittersweet. She’s eager to have more time to — of all things — read. Besides, it’s not like she’s leaving for good. “I’ll be in here every other day,” Susan says with a laugh