“Beware, Books Inside!” reads the sign within Lawrence Arteaga’s newly opened B&F Books shop in West New York. It might be a warning to Arteaga himself, who says that during his college days, “I started hoarding books.”
The West New York native was attending Rutgers, studying history. He noticed that when professors retired, they’d unload collections of books. Arteaga started snapping them up. Library sales were another good source.
In 2008, Arteaga graduated — directly into the grips of the global financial collapse. Work was hard to come by, and he soon found himself waiting tables. To make some extra cash, Arteaga began selling off some of his beloved books, and soon had a bit of an economic epiphany.
“One day I realized, I made $30 at the restaurant today, but I also sold a book for $30,” he recalls.
To make more money, he’d need more books. He saw a post on Craigslist offering a very large collection of books — three U-Hauls worth. “Then my life got interesting,” Arteaga says.
He became an official seller on Amazon, as Best and Fastest Books. But the central-Jersey house basement where he stored his inventory wasn’t the best and driest spot. Books were rotting from the rain.
Coming Back Home
In 2009, a solution appeared that was close to Arteaga’s roots. One block from his family home in West New York, a warehouse space at 61st Street and Fillmore Place became available. Arteaga decided to rent it, and then his work began in earnest.
Shelves had to go up, employees needed to be hired. Arteaga bought book collections and scoured storage-unit sales, estate sales, and auctions all over New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and beyond.
“You name the town, I’ve been there for books,” he says.
Before he knew it, Best and Fastest Books had 50,000 titles listed on Amazon. Arteaga was doing well, but the system wasn’t very efficient. The competition for selling used books online was pretty fierce. (Regular Amazon shoppers will note the vast number of used books priced at $.01 plus shipping, known in the industry as “penny books.”) As a result, Arteaga was throwing away about 80 percent of the books he’d collect, as there was no real market for them online. And they weren’t bad books.
A store in store
Arteaga began to think about opening a physical bookstore to help solve the problem. He could showcase many of the in-demand books he might otherwise have to discard. When a former nail-salon space at 6 60th Street became available, just three blocks from the warehouse, Arteaga decided to take the chance.
“I have faith that people still want to read and have books in their hands.” – Lawrence Arteaga
Indeed, West New York residents have a hard time recalling the last time their town had its own bookstore. Both Edgewater and Hoboken lost their Barnes & Nobles in recent years. Tachair in downtown Jersey City (new and used titles) closed its storefront last spring.
But still—and perhaps an encouraging sign for Arteaga—independent brick-and-mortar bookshops have shown signs of life lately in the local region. Hoboken’s Symposia, also dedicated to used books, has been a survivor over the past decade-plus. In late 2013, the Greenpoint, Brooklyn shop WORD opened a second location in downtown Jersey City, with a café and regular slate of readings and events. And May 2 will see the grand opening of Little City Books in Hoboken, with the owners promising art, music, readings, and more.
Arteaga opened B&F Books—shortened from Best and Fastest—on March 12. Response from the community has been positive. Arteaga feels there’s still a definite need for bookstores, even in the digital age.
“I have faith that people still want to read and have books in their hands,” he says. “I don’t think that people want to read entire novels on Nooks and iPads. There is still room for books in this world.”
Open for business
There are two main factors Arteaga is counting on to make B&F a success. The first is quality control. He says, “I’m selecting the books that I feel deserve to be in a bookstore,” including a large section of children’s books. (People can also sell their used books, CDs, and DVDs to B&F.) Equally important to him is keeping things affordable, from $2 for paperbacks to $5 for hardcovers. “I want anybody to be able to buy a book,” Arteaga states.
The charming store—with rugs, book spines, and neon strips providing splashes of color wherever you look—is absolutely packed with books, without feeling crowded. Still, a storefront space can only contain so many titles. So B&F’s secret weapon may be that close-by warehouse. Customers can browse the vast online listings, place an order, and pick up the book within a day.
Arteaga believes he’s created a very welcoming vibe within the store, and he’s happy to have given his hometown a relaxed place to gather and hang out. “There’s really nowhere else to go,” he admits. Arteaga says he would love to host readings, signings, and events featuring local authors. But he says that the ultimately, the customers’ level of interest will determine what happens at B&F.
“I opened it up, put the books there, and made it pleasant, so we’ll see what happens,” Arteaga says. “We’ll see if the area wants a bookstore around. We’ll find out real soon.”