Houston By The Book: River Oaks Bookstore

Experts lurk in every corner of the River Oaks Bookstore
Experts lurk in every corner of the River Oaks Bookstore
Marc Brubaker

For Mike Jones, heading in to the family business every day is hardly a chore. Years ago he and his wife joined Mike's mother, Jeanne Jard, who's has been running River Oaks Bookstore over the course of its 35-year history, helming the little shop that's spent its past 16 years on Westheimer Road, across from Lamar High School.

"All of us, my mother, my wife and I, we love to read," he states. "If we weren't doing this as a job, then we'd be hanging out in bookstores. This makes it simpler and probably cheaper."

Visitors to the shop are sure to see at least one of the trio, whom are often found on the couch basking in the sunlit glow from the large picture window, book in hand. While the small store is just that, shelves sprout throughout the room, featuring a collection of some 7,500 titles across a broad range of subjects. The little emporium, formerly on West Gray, traffics in mostly new books, but also features a few cases of first editions, fine editions, and out-of-print works.

"It's fun, really," Jones declares. "We have a great clientele of regular customers - it's mainly people who live right in this area. We're kind of like a little pub in the neighborhood," he explains with a chuckle. "This is a great business, if you like people and books and reading, and we all do."

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This little repository of hardbacks, paperbacks and children's books is open six days a week, with the family taking Sundays off to catch a bit of a break. The hard part, according to Jones, is staying in business - something common to any small business. While '08 and '09 weren't particularly easy, his sights have taken a bright turn of late, with a couple good years bringing things back to normal.

The two main features of the shop, though -- the books and the customers -- readily make up for any struggles that may come. "We've got a great base," Jones explains, "and people just keep coming back."

Perhaps they come for the author appearances, of which River Oaks Bookstore averages about four per month - with many more in the busy fall book season, according to Mike. Maybe it's the support they try to show for local authors - "We feel that's part of our responsibility as a local bookstore," he explains, or possibly it's the large selection of Texas books from coffee table books to histories.

Jones probably pinpoints it when he mentions the personal expertise that each family member offers, though. "Each one of us, we've got different favorites," he proclaims. "I like history, and I also like historical fiction, but more like wars and stuff. I'm a sucker for spy thrillers; I read those like candy. My mother is borne to newer women's literature, and my wife is really into the cooking and design books."

"If you want to go to a place where you know you like certain things, but you don't know what you want this is a great place to come," Mike asserts. "Chances are that somebody who's here at the time -- if it's not us, it'll be one of our customers -- will be able to say, 'I just read this, it's great, it's killer, you're going to love it.'"

The expertise and camaraderie of the shop might be the key to the shop's longevity, but Jones doesn't fear the new wave of e-readers, either. "I like it. I've tried the Kindle, and I've got to tell you I think it's cool. I think it's a brilliant piece of technology."

"But," he adds, "it's going to be an awful long time before people like me and most of the people who shop in here won't want to open a book and hold it and flip through the pages and have the feel of a book."

"Ten, 20 years from now, will there still be bookstores?" Jones ponders. "I really don't know. But a lot of things have been "supposed to disappear" throughout the technological revolution, and a lot of them are still here."

River Oaks Bookstore, 3270 Westheimer, Houston, 713.520.0061, riveroaksbookstore.com


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