It’s not apparent upon walking in that much has changed at Caveat Emptor, the used bookstore at 112 N. Walnut St. that’s been open for the last 45 years.
The bookshelves that reach from floor to ceiling are still in place, still full of books. Customers still wind their way through the shelving, their eyes scanning all of the titles of rare and used books the store offers. Mary Luncsford, a two-year employee, still pushes a cart of books through the shop, updating the shelves.
But the ownership at Caveat Emptor is brand new. Janis Starcs, who owned the bookstore during four of its decades, is no longer the face customers see when they push open the door and walk in. Now, it’s one or both faces of married couple Catherine and Eric Brown who purchased the bookstore earlier this summer.
“In early June, we found out this place was on sale,” Eric said. “My wife actually called me and said, ‘Did you know Caveat Emptor is for sale?’ I said no.”
The Browns owned an online book site prior to purchasing Caveat Emptor. Eric said they were both serious book-lovers and ran their online site as a hobby. But when they learned that Caveat Emptor planned to close, they decided to consider getting more serious with the book industry.
“I never expected to be the owner of Caveat Emptor or the owner of a used bookstore,” Catherine said. “It was definitely a fantasy, a pipe dream. We did look at the numbers and we did consider things seriously, but when we learned it was for sale it was kind of a foregone conclusion in the back of our minds.”
Eric said he and his wife worried about the loss Bloomington would inevitably feel from the closing of Caveat Emptor. He worried that scholarly books from IU would be shipped out of the community and dispersed elsewhere, perhaps online. If Caveat Emptor stayed open, he hoped they could prevent that from happening.
“We’re definitely interested in continuing that relationship between us and IU,” Eric said. “Other places that sell (these) books online sell them for nothing and it devalues them. We feel we can provide a service to the scholarly community.”
Although a significant part of its market is rare and scholarly or academic books, Catherine said that the bookstore does cater to everyone.
“You can go in there and fall in love with a scholarly book and save up for it, or you can go in and get a paperback to read on the plane,” Catherine said. “There’s something for everyone.”
Just what the bookstore is offering isn’t something that the owners can fully grasp yet. A sign outside Caveat Emptor boasts that there are more than 25,000 books inside the store.
“We have three times that many books in storage,” Eric said. “There were three storage units full of books that we got in the purchase as well. You could barely open the door to them.”
The Browns are still working their way through the boxes.
“I love that part of it,” Catherine said. “But I’m nowhere near obsessed like he is.”
Eric said that opening the boxes is like Christmas each time they do it.
“You never know what will be in the boxes,” Eric said. “I’ll say that I’m only going to open one, and then it will be four hours later and I’ll be negotiating with myself about going to bed because it’s now 4 a.m.”
Eric said the Browns realize that investing in Caveat Emptor comes with inherent risk. He said even though it might be naive, he doesn’t worry about risk.
“It was closing anyway,” he said. “At least we fought to keep it here.”
He said that business is similar to how it was before they took over. Most of the time, Eric and Catherine will both be present at the store due to the amount of work Eric said still needs to be done.
“I’m up late and here all the time because we love it here,” Eric said. “I worked until midnight at my other job and then came in early. The work is endless, but it’s fun. We love it.”
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