Interview with Michel Candor: Owner, Salamander Books, Baltimore, MD
Front Porch: How’s business?
Michel Candor: Okay. I’m thankful that I’m surviving in this economy.
FP: What is the most enjoyable thing about being in the bookselling business?
MC: The healthy cross-section of people that come into the shop.
FP: What is the hardest part about being in the bookselling business?
MC: The usual challenges of self-employment/mom & pop retail. [It’s] hard to get away for quality time off, lack of built-in benefits such as health insurance, potential landlord issues, city fees, etc. This is from the perspective of someone who actually makes a living with such a business—much different story if, like many used book businesses, it’s a hobby or retirement business where net income isn’t much of an issue.
FP: Another way of asking that same question: How central is reading to people’s lives?
MC: We are a very word-based culture, probably to a fault, and words have become the primary source for interpreting our world. Reading for pleasure may be waning since it requires more patience than the immediate-gratification culture the Internet promotes. Still, there seems to be a large young audience that reads traditionally, so I think that it’s still a central part of our culture, though definitely being pushed out of the main stream.
FP: As a used bookstore, have you had an opportunity to observe a change in what people are selling back?
MC: Books are becoming more of a novelty item and replaced hugely by the laptop. Just observe what people are looking at on trains, coffee shops and the like, and you’ll see the trend is away from books. Still a decent market, though nowhere near what it was in the pre-cyber world.
FP: How do you see the role of the bookstore within the literary community? Do bookstores have certain responsibilities to the communities they serve? Have the changes in the publishing industry affected your ability to fulfill those responsibilities?
MC: I feel very strongly that the bookstore serves a time-honored role as a cultural hub. The cross-section of customers is vast; it provides an avenue for research, promotes curiosity, exploration and open-mindedness, vicarious inputs, etc. As to the changes in the publishing industry, I am little affected since I am selling just used material.
FP: Given the proliferation of Amazon, self-publishing, and so on, how do you see the role of bookstores for writers?
MC: A great venue for local community support through readings and signings.