Andover resident Kristian Strom, a life-long bibliophile and self-proclaimed book nerd, has taken his passion and turned it into a small bookstore at the Andover Antique Mall as well as an online bookselling business.
"As long as I can remember, my ideal evening has always involved a trip to the bookstore and my ideal vacation always involves a trip to the local bookshop," Strom said. "I have always enjoyed buying books at garage sales, thrift stores, library sales, and once I realized I could make a living selling some of them, well, let's just say I found a way to support my reading habit."
He started his online bookselling business, lowestcostbooks.com, about 10 years ago "with no intention of having a traditional bricks and mortar bookshop," he said.
"Not only did I want to keep my overhead low, but also the part I enjoy most about my job is the thrill of the treasure hunt, and I wanted the flexibility to be able to travel to an auction or a book sale at a moment's notice," explained Strom.
As a lover of local independent bookshops, he ultimately decided he wanted a physical presence where customers could browse his inventory.
"I opened my first booth at the Andover Antique Mall several years ago and it quickly grew to three booths," he said.
"The Antique Mall is perfect for me, because Tom and Miriam Holman and their wonderful staff keep an eye on things for me and ring folks up at the register while I'm out doing what I love to do best--looking for the most interesting books I can find," said Strom.
He said he currently has about 2,000 select books listed online as well as several thousand additional books available at the Andover Antique Mall.
"If I don't have what you're looking for on hand, I'm always glad to help people hunt down books. I am also always glad to help folks answer questions about whether their collection or a particular book in the family my have any value," said Strom.
Initially, Strom started off as a generalist and sold just about any book from which he felt he could turn a profit.
"While I still enjoy dabbling in a variety of subjects, I quickly learned that to enjoy my work as a bookseller that I ought to focus on quality, not quantity," he said.
"I remember one of my first lessons was buying half a garage full of paperback romance novels at a garage sale. I loaded them up in my truck, drove home and began cataloging and listing them online like a madman. Three cups of coffee later, I realized that at this rate I would have to sell hundreds of the darned things each day at $5 a piece to pay my bills," Strom recalled. "I decided that moment I would focus on selling just 10 $50 books in a day rather than 100 $5 books."
Page 2 of 3 - Within the past several years, he has focused primarily on buying and selling rare and out-of-print books. Currently, his specialties include Art and Photography, Kansas History, Military History, Literature and Poetry and Transportation.
"I am also always on the hunt for decorative books, books signed by notable authors as well as collectible first printings. After over 10 years in the business, I remain a generalist and enjoy knowing very little about a lot of things," he said.
Strom's father is a retired Army officer and Strom spent his first 20 years of his life moving every year or two. His family has lived overseas in Spain, Germany and Israel as well as various locations within the United States.
"I grew up frequenting the library at whichever military base we were stationed, and my love of libraries has only grown over time," he said. "I feel very fortunate to live in Andover, and I may be slightly biased, but I do think that we have one of the nicest library facilities and most helpful and friendly staff of any library I have ever been to, and I've been to a lot of them."
In recent years, he has worked with several libraries within Kansas, including libraries in Andover, Wichita, Hutchinson, Newton, Salina and Manhattan, by selling some of their rare book donations online.
"Many times they will receive generous donations from their patrons for volumes that they already have in their permanent collection or do not have a use for, and that's where I come in," said Strom. "I am proud to say that over the past eight years that I have helped raise over $100,000 for public libraries in the state of Kansas."
He said that money is used for programs outside of the normal library budget, such as summer reading programs, author events and new materials.
For the past several years, he has also worked as a volunteer to help setup and run the semi-annual book sales for both the Andover and Wichita Public Libraries.
November and December are his two busiest months of the year for selling books, while spring and fall tend to be the best times for buying.
"It's kind of like that story about the squirrel storing up nuts for the winter," he joked. "I am fortunate to have experienced growth each year I have been in business. Each year the industry brings new changes and digital books continue to increase their market share, but I have found creative ways to adapt and use technology to my advantage," said Strom.
As his busy seasoning winds down, he is looking to 2013 and changes to come.
While he will continue growing and developing his current business model, he is preparing to embark on a new project.
Page 3 of 3 - "The first question people usually ask me when I tell them I sell rare books full-time usually is, 'What's the most expensive book you've ever sold?' The second question is usually, 'Aren't you worried about E-books putting you out of business?' The truth is that for the type of books I enjoy dealing in, I'm not too concerned about E-books at all," he said.
He explained that people still want the "real deal" in the types of books in which he specializes, and he expects that to continue for as long as he's alive.
His new concept will be called Taradiddle Books and he hopes to unveil the website in the summer of 2013.
"The idea is that the website will only deal in books that have a story behind them, meaning this this copy of this particular book has a history--a history that no other book in the world could have," Strom explained.
"The word 'taradiddle' actually means 'pretentious nonsense, or an imaginative tall tale'. So after every professional description in my online catalog, I am going to tell what I believe to be the story behind the book. And if I can't figure it out based on the facts at hand, well, I'll make one up," said Strom.
He added that people can add to the story or make their own version up on the website or Facebook page.
"It's just a fun way to incorporate my love of creative writing into my book business," Strom explained. "I have already enlisted the help of several well-known authors and creative types to help me write some of the very first taradiddles."
He will be working with Thatcher Wine of Juniper Books to design the custom dust jackets.
"We have worked together to supply books for several episodes of Extreme Makeover Home Edition as well as the Architectural Digest Green Room at this year's Academy Awards," said Strom.
"For folks who love books, it should all make perfect sense once the website is up," he said. "For everyone else, well they still won't give a darn, and I can't blame them."
Strom said he's always glad to talk books and can be reached via email at email@example.com.