The Dog Eared Book hosts few author events and has no local school partnerships or large initiatives underway. But as it approaches its seventh anniversary, the Palmyra, N.Y., store represents something rare in American bookselling today: it is simply a bookstore, and a highly successful one at that.
At the helm is owner Carrie Deming, who opened her store in January 2015 with $5,000, which she used to purchase seven flats of used books from a jobber in Connecticut. The stock wasn’t great, she jokes, but it was enough to fill her shelves and test the biggest question of all: could Palmyra, located on the shores of Lake Ontario, support a bookstore?
“We’re in Wayne County, N.Y., and it’s always been a book desert,” Deming said. Aside from a nearby antiquarian store, the next closest bookstore is a Barnes & Noble 30 miles away. But despite opening in the dead of winter, Deming said she knew within weeks that the store could succeed, because of the community’s embrace. “They were wildly excited,” she recalled.
A fast learner, Deming found ways to source quality used books nearby and held firm to a handful of principles, one of which was keeping debt to an absolute minimum, while being open to trying out new ideas. But in 2014, new ideas were hard to come by for a small, independent used bookstore. That is, until Deming found a handful of like-minded booksellers on Facebook and got word of BookExpo. In 2016, she decided to make the trek to New York City, and it sparked a new idea.
“When I came back, I was like, ‘I don’t know if this community will support new books, but I would love to sell new books,’ ” Deming said. “So I started by opening an account with Baker & Taylor and brought in one shelf of books.”
By then Deming had a good sense of what customers wanted, having seen strong sales of romance, speculative fiction, young adult, and children’s books. Instead of stocking frontlist titles, she filled the new shelf of new books with a mixture of backlist titles that were always in demand, as well as personal favorites. She soon sold out, and in time she established direct accounts with publishers, growing her stock of new books—including frontlist—until it took up 70% of the store’s 8,000 titles.
Deming’s trial-and-error approach wasn’t always successful. Author events did not draw large audiences, and the schools weren’t interested in partnerships. She was also growing concerned about her space. Deming’s landlord was getting older and would only offer one-year leases for her storefront on the main street in the heart of Palmyra. With each passing year, she became more worried that the building would change hands and put her out on the curb.
“Every time any space came up for sale I’d be looking at it because, meeting other booksellers, one of the number one recommendations is to buy your building,” Deming said. “The only way to guarantee long-term sustainability is if you can control that huge expense of mortgage or rent.”
In 2019, Deming got word from a customer that another building was about to go on the market—a building with a large store-front space occupied by a liquor store that was about to vacate. Before it was listed, she looked at the property and contacted the owner, a 92-year-old book lover, who wanted the building to go to her.
Deming and her husband put their home on the market, bought the building, converted an upstairs apartment into their new home, and began renovations on the store space. Always careful to keep costs down, she found high-end fixtures for the store for free at a bookstore that was closing near New York City, and opened the doors to the new location soon after the start of the pandemic, in May 2020. With the change in location and the outbreak of the pandemic, Deming was worried that sales would decline, but instead the store’s sales doubled and have held steady in the year and-a-half since.
“We’re on a corner and we have our own parking lot now,” she said. “And visibility seems so much better. A ton of people have said they never even knew we existed at all, and they found us here.”
Deming has also found a new following with her BookToks, including one that garnered 1.1 million views, in which she called out customers for flipping around the covers of LGBTQ-themed books in her store. Her posts have established Dog Eared Book as an LGBTQ-friendly store and, Deming said, they’ve also generated sales.
Deming continues to be the store’s sole employee, though her mother helps out on occasion. Dog Eared Book is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. As she looks ahead, Deming plans to hold firm to the simple approach that has generated her success: keeping costs down and focusing on a dedicated community of readers.
“I think if someone’s thinking about opening a small store, the narrative is that you need to have a ton of money and a gazillion employees—and that’s just not true,” Deming said. “A lot of people think, ‘Well, I can’t afford to do this.’ Well, no, not necessarily. I started this store with $5,000.”