Steve Martin doesn't believe used books will go out of style
Nothing staves off a cold, blustery Northwest winter day quite like time spent with an engaging companion.
'A book is like a good friend,' said Steve Martin, owner of Recycled Reads on Northeast Third Street in downtown Gresham. 'They're easy to get caught up with, and it's always sad when the visit ends.'
And there are plenty of new friends waiting to be found at Recycled Reads. Tidy, well organized shelves resemble a compact library of gently used reading material of everything from current releases to science fiction. With nearly 50,000 titles to choose from, Recycled Reads is nirvana for those unable to function without a book in their hands.
But for Martin, the business is not simply a platform to foster reading. Recycled Reads perpetuates a family operation begun more than 20 years ago.
In 1989, Martin's parents, Steve and Sandy, bought the former Gresham Book Exchange and renamed it Dakota Books. The cozy storefront on Northeast Third Street was the only bookstore in town for years. Dakota Books gradually became second only to the legendary Powell's Books for bragging rights as the largest used bookstore in the metro area. It also produced a loyal clientele.
'I have customers who have been with the store since it opened,' Martin said. 'Some are grandparents now, shopping for their grandchildren, and there are a lot of parents bringing in their kids. A lot of people worry about the next generation not developing that love affair with reading. But I'm not seeing that, based on my customers.'
When Borders Books arrived at Gresham Station in 2000, it posed little competition for the Martins' used bookstore. The two businesses established a complimentary relationship, Martin said, often referring customers to each other. Borders' closure last fall returned the longstanding used bookstore to being the only game in town.
'Losing Borders was a terrible blow to this community,' Martin said. 'It's a trend I hope doesn't continue, because Gresham needs a book store. We are readers here in Oregon.'
Martin may have grown up amid the book stacks at his parents' store, but owning the business was not the career path he originally chose.
After graduating from Gresham High School in 1988, Martin spent two years at Mt. Hood Community College. He transferred to Western Oregon University in Monmouth, where he met his wife, Tiffany, and studied finance.
In 2006, after several years in the mortgage and underwriting industry, Martin foresaw the impending real estate market crash. A career change, he suspected, was coming.
With his father already retired, Martin knew his mother was looking to take a lesser role in the daily affairs of Dakota Books. He began learning the business behind the scenes in 2007 and undertook day-to-day operations of Dakota Books in 2008. Martin purchased the store from his mother in February 2011, setting up shop in a new location with a new name.
'I knew I wanted to stay downtown, but finding the right space for us was hard,' he said. 'It was like buying a house. You need the right amount of space for your stuff, but it's a long-term commitment. The logistics of moving are miserable, so I wanted to be sure we had room to grow.'
Relocating the store afforded Recycled Reads an additional 1,000 square feet of floor space for shelving, storage and inventory. Martin admitted the current economy is risky for any small business, but considers a used bookstore a boon for avid readers hoping to feed their habit without breaking the bank. He is also undaunted by the wildly popular and convenient E-readers.
'People who physically love books aren't going anywhere,' Martin said. 'With every new delivery method, there are challenges that come with it. But until every child starts out in kindergarten with a tablet or E-reader, books are going to be around. E-readers do have a place, they're just not my preferred choice. But as long as everyone is reading, I'm a happy camper.'
Martin refers to Recycled Reads as 'Gresham's best kept secret.' It's one of the few places, he said, where trading an old friend may introduce you to a new one.
'When you pick up a book, you're connecting with old friends,' Martin said. 'There's a book for everyone's taste and everyone's price in here.'
What: Used books sold for half of publisher's original price. Recycled Reads accepts gently loved paperback and trade edition books for in-store exchange credit.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.