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Capitol Conversations: Broadleaf Books: Books Should be Everywhere

By Shianne Henion | December 6, 2021

Video Credit: Shianne Henion

Alex Jakubowski is a lively man who is passionate about literature. He used to teach English at SUNY Orange for over thirty years before he opened Broadleaf Books in Pine Bush, New York. Tracy Thomson, a regular customer, said, “He is very helpful. He puts my name down for things that I am looking for, and this space [Broadleaf Books] is comforting to be in.” Jakubowski is a new dad of his eleven-month old daughter, and recently moved the store into a larger location, just two doors down from where it used to be.

The shop first opened in May 2019. Initially located just a couple doors down from where I am now, at 85 Main Street. Here? Late April of this year I got the lease. I got a whole bunch of volunteers who showed up at the shop and said “We’ll help you move!” They had this whole line of kids and parents and people hauling books and bookcases. It was really lovely. We did look at various other locations but this was where we lived so there was the convenience of that. The location just seemed to work for us personally, as I think being on the main drag works as well. All towns seem to need a bookshop.

All kinds, over 50 categories of books as I’ve broken them down. I like to be eclectic and serve the interest of as many people as possible. So I try to have something of everything in the shop, some sections by nature are large, but I like to have all kinds of stuff.

Open Wednesday through Saturday, til six each day. I’ve toyed with other days but with the baby, I need some family time. Just the four days; It seems that I seem to get a bit more customers. I used to be open Sundays but I didn’t get too much business. Things are often pretty closed on Mondays around here, anyway. Maybe I could be open Tuesdays but I like to have the day to catch up on other things.

That’s always a good question. I have a number of favorite books! I’ve read some great stuff. My go-to is Lord of the Rings. I’ve read it many times. I’ve taught it many times. I’m a huge Tolkien fan. I like a lot of classic stuff as well. I will devour Bulgakov’s ‘The Master and Margarita.’ Oh, jeez, I’ve enjoyed the heck out of Station 11. That book is great! Oh, there are so many. ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ is a wonderful book. That book just blew me away. Read it, you’ll really enjoy it.

Short answer: very busy. Even if there are no customers there is always something to do in the store. But the average day does deal with (hopefully) selling a fair amount of books and helping people out. The best thing, of course, is connecting someone to a book they’ve been looking for, and they’re happy and excited.

The day itself goes very quickly because a lot of it is going through what people have brought to donate and being surprised by what I've found. I’m noticing books people are looking for are the ones I can’t wait to get onto the shelf. Pricing them, getting them up on shelves, straightening out, constantly looking at what can be approved on the place, and then by the time I realize it the day is half over. That’s a lot of the day, just trying to keep up with the various nuances from listing books online to getting them up on the shelf, dealing with donations, fielding phone calls. All of that stuff. It’s busier than you think. People say, ‘Oh you must read a lot,”’ and I laugh. I don’t read as much as I used to because I’m constantly moving books, looking at books I want to read but don’t have a moment for just yet.

I would say at least an average of a couple hundred, a few hundred books a week. You’d be surprised. If people come in with five bags full of books, that's almost a hundred books there. I had somebody bring in about fifty cookbooks the other day. I’m like, okay, more cookbooks! I get behind. I got a pile over here that I have to go through. Everytime I get caught up in getting all the way caught up then I get another large donation that I have to start over again.

Do I like running the store? Sure, very much. It’s connecting people with books. A little kid the other day had a book that he found and he brought it up to the counter and I said ‘oh, you found a book you like,’ and he’s like, ‘I LOVE it!” and I’m like “Oh great!”

It just made me feel good.

I had a kid call and he was looking for a book for his class. He called several bookstores, couldn’t find it. I had it. He was thrilled, came in fifteen minutes later to pick it up because he needed it to write a paper. I was like, “I have it, sure. Here you go.” That’s a great thrill of connecting to them and bringing something to them that makes them happy for a bit.

And they do, books make folks happy.

Our motto is ‘Because books are everywhere.” They should be everywhere.

It’s overwhelming. The difficulty is dealing with the volume of books that do come in. I mean I can’t sell it unless I get them priced and on the shelf. And try to keep up with that tide on top of trying to do the basic stuff of keeping track of my monthly financials and trying to organize what is here and update the facebook page, update this and all of that. Not to mention the physical labor of picking up twenty, thirty, forty pound boxes of books, moving them here, moving them there. It keeps me in shape, I guess, but it’s back breaking as well.

No. *laughs* No. I’m breaking even right now with the store. It’s paying for itself, but I’m not really bringing any money home per say. I occasionally buy a sandwich, or I’ll sneak out and get a snack or fill up the gas tank. But right now all the money is going into the store. The overheads are always more than you think, from insurance, to buying bags, to getting business cards, to paying for a variety of other things. It vanishes pretty quickly. I’m inching along. I’m coming close to maybe pulling a small paycheck, but it wouldn’t be what you’d call a “living wage.” It would just be a little extra money.

Right now I just want to have a profitable year at least. We’ll see how that works. You gotta sell a lot of books to make any money.

I’m a new dad, so that’s keeping me busy. Taking care of the house as much as I can. I do, when we get a chance, love to hike and run and visit new towns. Read when I can. Scribble if I can. Play a mediocre banjo. Try to have as much fun as we can.


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