"It's the hardest job I've ever had in my life," says Jane Moser, the bespectacled woman who runs Brazos Bookstore. Moser is a former children's bookstore owner - the first one in Houston actually at Stop Look And Learn, and as that name sparks a flash across Art Attack's eyes, she adds, "It was in an old house, and your mother may have brought you there."
For the past five years, however, Moser has been running the show at Brazos, managing the day-to-day operations, scheduling appearances, and - most importantly - buying the books. While she admits that it indeed is no picnic, it's a job that clearly brings her a good bit of joy.
When Brazos first opened in 1974 it was just down the block, at Greenbriar and Bissonnet, and for 42 years it was owned and operated by one Karl Kilian. In 2006, however, with Kilian deciding that he'd finished his run, and no takers stepping up to buy, it looked like Brazos might fade into the sunset like many other Houston institutions.
But that didn't happen. "Twenty-five Houstonians came together and formed an LLC and bought the store. I was one of the people who worked on the deal to get it together," Moser explains.
As for how she wound up running Brazos, it was a bit of happenstance. "I had been a customer of this store for years, and knew the owners. So when it came up that they were trying to put a deal together, none of the people who bought it wanted to run it. They just wanted to save it."
Stuck with a bookstore and no boss, the LLC turned to Moser, hiring her to run the store. "It's much more complex than the children's store," she explains. "The short life of a title - which is about six weeks for most titles, even the big ones - requires that you have to have them in stock all the time, and it changes all the time."
Stocking the 3300 square foot shop is hardly all that's on her plate, though. Moser also schedules the shop's events, which range from author appearances and book signings to reading series and guest lectures. According to her, the events are her favorite part of the store. "We get authors from all over the world. The reputation of the store is not just local; it's national," she states, and a plethora of accomplished folk - famous authors, novelists, and more - have visited Brazos.
"We had Patti Smith this year, and she sat in this office and sang songs," Moser recalls. "I said, 'my God, I can't believe Patti Smith is sitting in my office, singing.' She was brought here by voices breaking boundaries."
With about 20 events per month, Moser is kept on her toes. "It's a lot of work, and it's hard to keep them all straight sometimes, but that part's fun," she admits.
There are the obvious titles that a small bookstore simply must stock - those things expected to do well on the best-seller lists, books from the big names, et cetera, that will have customers inquiring. It's filling the rest of the shop with an eclectic and interesting blend of stock that has Jane's heart pumping. "I try to think of things that would create a sort of unusual mix in the store."
"The luxury of having a 40,000-square-foot store - which Borders found out wasn't the best idea after all - is that you can buy everything," she says. "That's the challenge of a buying for a store like this, that you have to limit. But it's also a strength, because people who come here regularly feel like there's somebody paying attention (to the stock)."
The hardest thing for her may be finding time for her own reading. "Everybody who ever owns a bookstore says that they thought they would have the time to sit around and read and discuss the events of the day," she says.
"I read as much as I can. A lot of people have an image of bookstore staff as people who get to sit around and read all the time. But we're dealing so much with handling books coming in and out, dealing with customers, and planning events, buying books - that there's never time to read." But by hiring readers and giving herself the permission to not finish every book she opens, Moser manages to stay on top of it. If she catches the time to pick up a tome, it's likely to be an advance that's being considered for stock, or a title belonging to someone about to visit the store.
The sign in the shop window currently boasts the Deen Brothers dropping by on April 28, but the bulk of the appearances are either from literary fiction writers or current events authors.
Gloria Feldt, past president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, is also set to stop in Brazos, appearing on Tuesday, April 26. "It's very timely, she'll have a lot to talk about," Moser chuckles. "It'll be interesting to hear her comments." Feldt is currently touring her new book, No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power.
"I would like to point out how important it is for the people who treasure some of the things I've talked about to actually buy books here," Moser chimes.
"Everybody loves the idea of a strong, independent bookstore in town," she says. "People like the idea, but now we're in a changing age, and people are going to have to support the sale of physical books as well, or we're going to lose these opportunities for meeting the authors, etc."
Moser doesn't hate the idea of e-Readers; she feels there's room for them in the book world, but points out: "You can't sign an e-Book at an author event." After a day of reading stuff on a computer screen, however, she can't imagine wanting to pick up a Kindle and read off yet another screen.
There's clearly a lot more to love about physical bookstores than just the opportunity to purchase some reading material, as Moser says:
"That serendipitous experience of walking in a bookstore and seeing a book you didn't know you needed, or meeting an author you didn't know about before, or seeing another book by an author, or seeing a cover that just grabs you - those are things that just aren't yet possible online." Moser pauses before adding: "and just the feel and touch and smell of books."
Brazos Bookstore 2421 Bissonnet Houston, Texas 77005 713.523.0701
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