Maryland may be for crabs, but the 12,407-square-mile state is also for books. Comics giant Diamond Book Distributors is located in the Old Line State, as are National Book Network and the Random House warehouse. Despite two notable bankruptcies—Crown Books and Bibelot both closed in 2001—the state boasts one of the oldest regional chains and the largest African-American bookstore group in the country.
Thirty-five-year-old Olsson's Books & Records has its warehouse and offices in Maryland, although its six stores are located in neighboring Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia. With the closing of its Bethesda store a year and a half ago, the bookseller continues to look for a new Maryland location. Demographics make the state a favorable place to do business. Not only does Maryland, with a population of five and a half million, have the second highest median income of any state—$57,218 to New Jersey's $58,588—but Montgomery and neighboring Howard County rank among the top 10 wealthiest counties in the U.S.
The multistore African-American bookseller Karibu Books chose Prince George's County for its headquarters and its first stores. With a median income of $53,659, Prince George's is the most affluent black county in the U.S. Since its founding in 1992, Karibu has grown to six stores. Cofounder Simba Sana said, “Next year we plan to go into Baltimore and then into Washington in two years.”
For Marylander Ted Wedel, co-owner of the sales representative group Chesapeake & Hudson, Maryland is marked by very different book cultures. “I think we're truly getting into the age of specialty stores,” he said. Using Baltimore as a microcosm for bookselling across the state, he pointed to niche stores like Atomic Books, which specializes in pop culture titles and recently added a second Atomic Pop location to sell art toys and books; Breathe, which carries New Age titles; children's-only retailer the Children's Book Store; museum stores like the ones attached to the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Museum; and newcomer Ivy Bookshop, which nearly doubled its size in January when it moved to a 2,200-sq.-ft. location.
Location also affects what sells. While Wonder Book in Frederick does a good business in children's hardcovers, in the state capital, Annapolis, which is also home to the Naval Academy, Gary Amoth's Hard Bean Coffee and Booksellers moves a lot of boating, military and current affairs titles, as well as local children's author Priscilla Cummings's Chadwick books. For Pages Bookstore in the Baltimore suburb of Pikesville, which caters to the area's large Jewish population (the ninth largest in the country), a high percentage of the store's sales comes from Jewish fiction. Writers like Tova Mirvis, Naomi Ragen and Dara Horn are especially popular, said owner Bonnie Scherr.
Other Maryland niches include remainders and used books. After a quarter of a century as a remainder wholesaling force, Daedalus Books & Music in Columbia opened its first stand-alone bookstore in Baltimore last year. “We're pleased with how it's doing, but its sales need to grow and we're working on that,” said company president Robin Moody. The store has a large selection of kids' books and 48 feet of fiction priced at $6 and under. Currently it has a table of new releases and new books used in classes at nearby colleges. Moody is also hosting author events and intends to handle the new Harry Potter.
In 1980, Chuck Roberts started Wonder Book & Video, which sells used books, remainders and collectibles as well as DVDs, VHS tapes and LPs, in Frederick, the state's third largest city after Baltimore and Gaithersburg. He also has a second store farther west, in Hagerstown. Wonder Book stocks a broad selection of children's and adult books and has an additional 800,000 titles in its 54,000-sq.-ft warehouse that can be accessed through store kiosks, reflecting Roberts's philosophy: “We try to have something for everybody.”