When customers walk into The Book Depot in Germantown, they often comment on the smell, says owner Kathy Waldrop.
“If they’re true book lovers, they’ll walk in and say, ‘Oh, it smells great!’” she said. “Newer bookstores sometimes try to take the smell of books away – they don’t realize that to some of us it’s the smell of happiness!”
The tiny used-book store at 2245 S Germantown Road, holds both historic and sentimental significance for the community. In 1941, the building was home to the Germantown Post Office. Later it became a barbershop. In 1979, the late Floyd McLaughlin purchased it and transformed it into a bookshop.
Waldrop vividly remembers going there as a child.
Kathy Waldrop has been owner of The Book Depot in Germantown, 2245 S. Germantown Road, for 21 years. The bookstore, which primarily sells used paperbacks and popular fiction, has built a loyal customer base.
(Photo: Lance Murphey )
“My family moved to Germantown when I was 11 and Floyd opened the store the next year,” she said. “We read all the time in my house, and I remember being so excited when he opened the store. I think we were probably the first people in the door. It became kind of our Saturday place to go shopping.”
She had no idea back then that one day The Book Depot would be hers.
In 1988, Waldrop got married and moved away. She and her husband returned to Memphis in the early 1990s. Looking for work, she stopped by her favorite bookstore and asked if she could help out a day or two a week. One day a week soon turned into four days, and the next thing she knew, McLaughlin was asking her if she wanted to buy the business.
“He was in his 70s. He was ready to retire,” Waldrop said. “The commute for him was 45 minutes one-way. And he knew how much I loved the place. He knew I would stay true to his original vision.”
That original vision was to provide a place where people could buy affordable used paperbacks, and if they couldn’t afford them, they could trade for them. Not only has that business model survived, but the store itself also hasn’t changed much. Walking through the door is like stepping back in time.
Shelves and shelves of paperbacks create a labyrinth of books. Stacks of books reach almost to the ceiling, while overstock is stored over the doors and high above the shelves. It is, quite literally, wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling books in there.
“For me, keeping it in its original form was extremely important,” Waldrop said. “People feel comfortable coming in and they love that sense of familiarity. I’ve had customers grow up, move away, come back, walk in the store and gasp, ‘Oh my goodness, it hasn’t changed at all.’”
Caroline Williams of Germantown is one of The Book Depot’s many regulars. She’s been shopping there for at least 30 years.
“I was born and raised in Germantown and I’ve always liked it,” Williams said. “It’s a quaint little place and I love shopping here. I read mystery, historical romance, whatever looks appealing – and lord, they’ve got almost every book you’ve ever heard of.”
There are no hardbacks or shiny new books at The Book Depot, and many customers say that’s part of the appeal.
“This isn’t an antique or a rare bookstore, but we do have many paperbacks of popular mystery and romance authors that are no longer in print or extremely hard to find,” Waldrop said.
Customers who are avid readers can trade their own paperbacks for store credit – a quarter of the publisher’s price of each book they trade. In keeping with the rest of the store, Waldrop still uses the original system of recording customers’ credit on index cards. It’s not that she’s anti-technology, she said. It’s just that she wants to ensure that her customer info will always be accessible without the threat of computer crashes.
For patrons who choose to buy their books, Waldrop accepts cash only, and all books cost half the publisher’s price plus an additional 25 cents.
“Unfortunately MLGW doesn’t accept books in trade as payment,” she laughs.
In light of the technological advancements in e-readers and even the struggles of national chains such as Borders, many people express amazement that The Book Depot is still standing, Waldrop said. She admits she faces challenges.
“You’re definitely not going to get wealthy doing this. It’s not going to make mega-bucks.”
She has faith, though, that the store will survive. She equates it to the popular TV bar Cheers and says many customers come for the familiarity. She works hard to learn their tastes and suggest books she knows they’ll like. Also, despite all the technological marvels out there, many people still have a fierce loyalty to good old-fashioned books, Waldrop said.
“Customers have told me they’ve tried e-readers, but eventually they start missing the feel of a book in their hands,” she said. “One of them said to me, ‘I stare at a computer screen all day. I don’t want to go home and look at another screen all night.’”