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A new chapter in Adirondack book publishing

Lake Placid business to distribute regional books as North Country Books closes

Marc and Sarah Galvin, owners of the Blue Line Book Exchange, posing at their other business, The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid. (Photo provided)

LAKE PLACID — It took 56 years for North Country Books to tell its story. Now owner Rob Igoe Jr. is writing its afterword as the business slowly closes.

Blame COVID. Blame the internet. They’re both big reasons why North Country Books — a wholesaler, distributor and publisher of Adirondack books, based in Utica — is going out of business.

“The closing of North Country Books wasn’t really by choice,” Igoe said Monday, Jan. 18. “The COVID pandemic made it very, very difficult to continue at this point.”

With the imminent closure of the biggest distributor of Adirondack books and other material — posters, maps, CDs, DVDs, etc. — stores, authors and publishers throughout the North Country were wondering, “Who is going to distribute these items now?”

Enter The Bookstore Plus on Main Street in Lake Placid, owned and operated by Marc and Sarah Galvin. Even during the pandemic, they stayed open, offering curbside service at first and then reopening the store with a limited amount of customers. Book sales were brisk, even through the height of the health crisis.

North Country Books owner Rob Igoe Jr. (Photo provided)

Blue Line Book Exchange

Retailers started seeing a change in their book orders a few months after the pandemic began. The Galvins noticed a decline in title fulfillments from North Country Books during the busy summer.

“We were starting to wonder what’s going on,” Marc said. “I’d order 60 titles, and we’d get 30.”

Marc and Sarah started joking that they could distribute books themselves, if this continued.

“Then sometime in September, he (Rob Igoe) called me and said, ‘Hey, listen, I’m not going to make it through the year. Or, I’ll make it through the end of the year, but I’m not going to be ordering any more stock,'” Marc said.

That joke about book distribution quickly became a reality. The next day, they called Nick Gulli, the book buyer for The Mountaineer outdoor shop in Keene Valley.

“And he said, ‘Did Rob call you?’ Are you guys thinking about doing anything?'” Marc said.

Gulli said he was interested in helping with a book distribution business if the Galvins were going to start one. And they did. It’s called the Blue Line Book Exchange, and Gulli is now the manager. The warehouse/office is located in the former Lake Placid Music shop at the corner of Saranac Avenue and Wesvalley Road.

“We had to crunch numbers, obviously, first,” Marc said, adding that Igoe shared information about the regional market and his customers to help them out.

There’s not a lot of money in book selling, especially in a limited market such as the Adirondack Park. The margins are thin, and the volume is low, compared to a city, but there is definitely a market for Adirondack books and gifts.

“So when you’re buying and you sell it at a pretty thin margin, you’ve got to do a lot of volume to make up for that,” Marc said. “We just wanted to make sure the business was there. After crunching numbers, we said, ‘Let’s get going with it.'”

As a wholesaler, the Blue Line Book Exchange will be distributing a line of Adirondack literature including guidebooks, local history, art books, fiction and nonfiction, and children’s titles from board books through young adult. Plus, they will handle other items such as maps, calendars, posters and note cards. They will buy items from authors and publishers and resell them to retailers for a percentage of the retail price.

They also plan to market their service at wholesaler events such as the Adirondack Buyer Days in Saratoga Springs every spring (as is allowed during the pandemic). And they will set up delivery routes in the Adirondack Park to deliver books in person when possible.

One of Igoe’s tips was to not cover such a large area. He had two catalogs: one for all of New York state, including the Catskills, and one for northern New England — Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. The Galvins have decided to concentrate only on the Adirondack market.

“We knew firsthand the necessity of having a supplier of Adirondack materials for independent stores in the Adirondack Park, from museums to outdoor gear suppliers to general stores,” Sarah said in a press release. “Rob has been wonderful in helping make this a smooth transition to meet that need. We look forward to working with North Country’s customers and suppliers.”

The book business

North Country Books has been around since 1965, and it became the top book distributor in the region, working with big box bookstores, mom-and-pop shops and everything in between. Some non-bookstores with local book sections will only do business with North Country Books.

Igoe has been working for the company since 1989. He became a co-owner and then in 2005 a full owner. Over that time, the book business has changed dramatically. Back in the early days of the internet, there were major bookstores that helped the company sell the volume it needed.

“When so much went to the internet, we lost so many local bookstores, small independent bookstores and then the chain stores,” Igoe said.

Lauriat’s closed in 1999, Borders and Waldenbooks closed in 2011, and while Barnes & Noble survived, it closed many of its stores.

Business was tough even before last March, but it was the reduction in sales from the COVID pandemic that really led to Igoe’s decision to close North Country Books. What would business be like without COVID?

“We think we would probably still be in business,” Igoe said. “A lot of people in the book industry have struggled over the last 10 years. When Borders Books and Music and Waldenbooks went out of business, it hurt an awful lot of people in the industry. Then you throw in ebooks and a variety of other things.”

It’s still a good business, he said, but you have to be just the right size company.

“We weren’t quite big enough or small enough,” Igoe said. “We were kind of cut in that middle ground where we had all the expenses of a big company but the sales now of a smaller company.”

Selling Adirondack books

North Country Books does sell books on Amazon.com, but it’s not the best fit for people buying Adirondack books.

“It’s such a big place there, to find our stuff is a difficult thing,” Igoe said.

Search for “Adirondack” books on Amazon, and you get more than 3,000 results.

“The ability to browse is much more difficult on the internet in some ways, especially if you don’t know of a specific book that you’re looking for,” Igoe said. “The beauty of a Borders or a Walden was you could walk in, go to that regional book section and browse.”

The authors North Country Books represents are not usually famous, sought-after people.

“They’re just somebody who happens to know an awful lot about a certain place, a certain event, etc. And they write about it,” Igoe said. “And so our books are sold by the subject material as opposed to normally by the author.”

The landscape of brick-and-mortar book selling in the Adirondack region is different than other places. There are only a handful of actual bookstores, such as The Bookstore Plus, the Book Nook in Saranac Lake and the Adirondack Reader in Inlet.

“That’s the most interesting thing that we’ve found through this whole process,” Marc said. “While there’s not a lot of bookstores in the Park, there’s a lot of people who sell books. That was an eye-opening thing for us, looking at Rob’s customer list.”

“A lot of the non-bookstores sell incredibly well,” Igoe said.

Some of the bigger book sellers in the Park include Old Forge Hardware, Hoss’s Country Corner in Long Lake, Charlie Johns Store in Speculator, the Adirondack Experience museum in Blue Mountain Lake, Hudson River Trading Company in North Creek and Trees Adirondack Gifts & Books in Bolton Landing. Then there are small convenience stores, historical societies, museums, marinas, etc.

“Just those type of stores alone can’t handle the volume that a company like ours needed to have to survive,” Igoe said. “We needed the Borders, we needed the Waldens, we needed a bigger, more successful Barnes & Noble than we had to sell to.”

Igoe said there is certainly a market for Adirondack books.

“It’s just our business model didn’t work any longer.”

But Igoe wanted to help the Galvins set up their distribution business.

“After doing this for over 30 years, I didn’t want all of the effort that we have put into the whole book world in the Adirondacks and beyond to just go to nothing,” Igoe said. “I didn’t want the smaller publishers not to know how to get their books out to the marketplace. A lot of that can be very challenging if you don’t know the way it works.”

Some self-published authors, such as Gary VanRiper of Camden — co-author of the “Adirondack Kids” book series since 2001 — know how the business works. He has been a client of North Country Books since his first book came out, but he also reserves the right to sell to stores himself.

“I know we’ve got the big accounts,” VanRiper said. “What Rob had were the nooks and crannies that we didn’t know about.”

VanRiper has not yet decided whether he will distribute his books through the Blue Line Book Exchange. He hasn’t had time to talk with the Galvins or Gulli and ask basic business questions such as terms, shipping and marketing. Yet he’s pleased to see someone stepping up and filling the distribution void in the Adirondacks.

“We’re thrilled that something of North Country is continuing,” VanRiper said. “It’s going to be great for retailers at large. It’s going to be great for authors at large. We just have questions ourselves.”

The new chapters

North Country Books is not closed yet, but it’s in the process of closing.

“It’s a very long, excruciating process to get it all done,” Igoe said.

Then there’s the book publishing side of the company. What happens to its own titles? Igoe said he has someone interested in purchasing North Country Books as a publisher, but could not reveal the person.

“That would then give a home to the many books that we published over the years, over 180 books we’ve published over the years,” he said. “They’d still be available, a place for the authors to have their books hopefully reprinted as need be.”

It’s not like Igoe will be retiring anytime soon. He’s already started working for a new employer — Adirondack Life magazine, based in Jay — where he will take his years of experience working with businesses and communities through the region to sell advertising.

And he’s still helping the Galvins get up and running, having recently sent out an email blast to North Country Books customers on behalf of the Blue Line Book Exchange.

“I know an awful lot of my customers who have been calling and saying, ‘Hey, Rob, what do we do now? Where do we get this stuff?’ And it’s great to have that answer, ‘Just contact them up there,'” Igoe said.

As for the Galvins, they’re writing the next chapter for the Adirondack publishing world right now. While COVID helped kill North Country Books, it actually helped The Bookstore Plus. Sales have been up during the pandemic.

“We have to thank our customers this year because we had such a strong year in the bookstore, it gave us the flexibility and the finances to be able to get this off and running,” Marc said. “This is one good thing that’s come out of COVID. We’re able to jump in and start this new company.”

The Blue Line Book Exchange’s first catalog will be available in late February. For more information, call 518-637-5647 or email bluelinebookexchange@gmail.com.