After nearly five years, the owners of Oddfellow’s Fine Books and Collectables said the decision to close the downtown Topeka brick-and-mortar store wasn’t an easy one in some respects.
“We’ve never really had a lot of business locally,” said Brandon Rison, owner of the bookstore at 117 S.W. 6th that closed this week. “The online store kind of supported the local store. When every customer you have you know on a first-name basis, it does sort of tend to not be the best business model. Even in large markets, stores like this are having a hard time because of the costs.”
“We’ve really diversified ourselves online and gotten to know niche collectors,” Martie Rison said. “I guess a good way to put it is, when we get a really rare book, it could be worth $500. It could be really valuable. But it’s going to sit on our shelf for 10 years until we find that perfect buyer who wants that rare book. If we wait for them to come in the door here, it’s going to take even longer.”
If the book is offered online, using keywords and a photo, she said, the customer who wants that book will find it much faster.
Martie Rison said the couple’s business has a core of loyal customers whom they love, and they will continue to serve them. However, Brandon Rison said, the industry’s online push has been “an unfortunate trend, even in the big cities.” He said their business probably should have moved exclusively online about a year ago.
“The internet is the one marketplace, aside from book fairs, where people shop for antiquarian books,” he said. “We knew that going in, but we just wanted to maintain sort of the historic bookstore here in downtown Topeka.”
Since March 2013, the Risons have been offering rare books and collections, including Kansas history, Western Americana that includes railroad and Western U.S. history, and many nonfiction and period works. They bought the business from Lloyd Zimmer, who approached them and other members of the Topeka History Geeks group on Facebook about posting items from his book and map shop for sale.
Brandon Rison started spending time at the shop and later worked there part time, so the couple was ready to take over the space when Zimmer decided to sell books online only.
They have leased space in the former Independent Order of Odd Fellows building from Mike Fox in what they said was once a plumbing and fixture store and was the Topeka Credit Union in the 1940s and ’50s.
The Risons said they will continue to buy books as part of their online business.
“There’s definitely people who are looking to sell their books,” said Martie Rison, “which is wonderful because we get to pick what we want.”
“We’re definitely interested in buying as well,” Brandon Rison added. “Antique, collectible, unique books.”
Joking that “books are heavy,” the Risons said Oddfellow’s will host a final sale from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 24 at the downtown store before the inventory is moved to their home and a storage unit. Their business will remain online at www.oddfellowbooks.com and on social media.
Contact reporter Angela Deines at (785) 295-1143 or @AngelaDeines on Twitter.