Casperson’s new chapterPublished 8:54am Monday, March 15, 2010
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
One of those unique finds, a magical world of letters, Casperson’s bookshop is almost hidden behind a seemingly ordinary exterior in a small addition located just off the main home the shop’s founder, Ralph Casperson, shared with his wife Doris right up until the day he died last year.
Sitting at the desk his father occupied since opening the shop in 1971, Al Casperson is surrounded by the legacy his father built, a legacy that is now poised to be his own great adventure.
Recently Casperson announced he would be moving his father’s shop to downtown Niles in an effort to keep the business going.
“It just kind of presented itself,” he said of the opportunity that lies inside the building he purchased at 113 North Third St.
Through a creaky screen door Casperson’s is row upon row of bins and bookshelves filled with everything from chronicles of Civil War era battles to instructional books on gardening to classic pieces of literature.
Between the main store building, the warehouse filled with volumes upon volumes of books and historical papers, the shop estimates encompassing approximately 100,000 books.
“Dad and I always had friendly arguments about this,” Casperson said.
His father’s business was born out of his interest in reading, he said.
“You read one book and there’s something in it that leads you to another venue, another avenue.”
Like father, like son, Casperson said he too was “bitten by the bug.”
He started buying books while living out in California and sending them home.
“After a while,” Casperson said his father “looked at me and said, ‘you’ve got an eye.’”
Now Casperson is relying on that eye – not just for books but also for business in the hopes of taking the bookshop to a new level – a decision relatively controversial.
“I know what this move means to some people,” he said. For his customers, Casperson’s is a shop seen as better off staying the same.
“I don’t want to offend anyone,” he added.
Since making the decision, he said he’s had to sit down and explain to many of his loyal customers, book lovers and dealers alike, the reasoning behind it. For many, pulling up into the gravel driveway of the Casperson home and heading to the back of the property where the shop sits now has been a time-honored tradition. Like a diamond in the rough, the shop could be one of Niles’ best-kept secrets.
In Casperson’s mind, maybe too much of a secret.
Though he’s moving to a new location, it’s the old familiar feel that Casperson said he would try to achieve.
“I want to be an old bookshop,” he said. “Stuff is going to be everywhere.” He’s even looking for an old creaking screen door, much like the one that opens up into the shop now.
“Part of having a bookshop is creating an atmosphere,” he said. “Even if they (customers) don’t buy a book, I want them to come back just because it’s so cool in there.”
Inside Casperson’s there is not a single space on a shelf that isn’t housed by something bound.
For years, loyal customers brought their old books into the shop to sell, or came with empty hands only to walk out with stacks of new purchases to fill their arms.
There, customers got a chance to know the elder Casperson, trading as many stories as those that filled his shelves. If that is part of the ambiance that his son is hoping to achieve, he’s off to a good start.
Like his father, Casperson loves books and everything about them.
It’s that love that is driving his unique vision. A vision not altogether different from his predecessor but just on a different level.
Walking into a bookshop like Casperson’s, he said, is a journey of discovery not a waltz into the latest round of bestsellers. It’s about the hunt for something special. It’s that experience he hopes to bring to new customers and returning customers in his new space.
“I’m kind of bucking the trend which is kind of the way my dad was,” he said. “Initially when dad opened this, these are the kind of places you went.”
Those kinds of places are smaller structures, off the beaten path, off a home. Used bookshops tend to have a character all their own and Casperson’s does.
Now, however, there seems to be a move to balance the traditional with the visible. By moving the store, Casperson is relatively confident he’ll be able to recreate the authenticity of his business while being more available to the masses unaware this longstanding business even exists.
“This is the frustrating thing,” he said. “I know what’s here. (I’m) hoping by going downtown that (discovery) will happen for a lot of people.
“I’m committed to it,” he added. “The whole thing is the thrill of the hunt and seeing someone buy that book. You like to see people being very satisfied with what you have found for them.”
Casperson plans to have the shop moved by June. Only 30,000 of his 100,000-book collection will be moved to the new store but the sheer volume of the collection will keep inventory revolving.
And he continues to shop for new old treasures.
As the moving date gets closer, there seems to be a shared fearlessness between father and son as owners.
As his father built his shop to what it is today, there was the growth of Barnes & Noble and Borders, bookstores that embrace the atmosphere mentality. Asked if that movement ever threatened his father, Casperson said not at all.
“He would say ‘those are my future books,’” he said.
As Casperson faces his own time to guide this business, he seems focused and enthused.
“I’d like to be very informal about the way I run things,” he said. “For me it’s fun.”
Finally, what would his father say about the move?
“You know, you either follow the courage of your convictions or let it go,” Casperson said. “Above all he would want it to continue.”