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April 27, 2013

Loving and living books in Cooperstown

By Cathy B. Koplen
The Daily Star

---- — Book lovers sometimes dream of floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with tasty morsels of literature that will keep them entertained for years.

Willis Monie Books in Cooperstown has more books than a person could read in a lifetime.

The book and ephemera store at 139 Main St. has more than 100,000 books in two buildings. In addition to the physical store, Willis Monie does a brisk Internet business and frequents rare-book and ephemera fairs.

“We sell books three ways — through the store, on the Internet and at rare-book fairs,” said Willis Monie, the store’s owner. “We have 105,000 different books listed on the Internet.”

Willis Monie Books occupies a former auto dealership, which had a showroom on the upper floor. It was reinforced to hold the weight of the cars, and is a suitable structure to hold the tons of books stored on the building’s second floor. 

Monie, who has been at the Cooperstown location for more than 25 years, has a palatable love for books, manuscripts and interesting paper material. He has seen the actual signatures of several founding fathers and many sports stars.

Monie has been collecting books, manuscripts and ephemera most of his life, and he has the inventory to prove it.

“I know this has been said before, but really, when you find something you love to do, it’s like you don’t work a day in your life,” Monie said. “To me, it’s like being a treasure hunter: You never know what you may come across.”

Occasionally, Monie will come across a rare book or document.

“I frequently buy books at estate sales,” Monie said. “Once, at an estate sale, I bought five very nice books, and as I was leaving, I saw a burn barrel in the back. They were burning the books that didn’t sell.

“That was the first time I found a first-edition ‘Book of Mormon.’ At the time the book was worth about $10,000-$15,000.”

About five years ago, Monie came across another first-edition ‘Book of Mormon.’ The book sold for $60,000. The same book is worth $75,000 today, according to Willis.

“I can sell a $60,000 rare book in about five minutes, while a $6 book could sit on the shelf for years,” Monie said.

The book business has change in the past 25 years. Many people are using tablets and iPads to read everything from classic literature to new novels. But for many, there is still a desire for the physical sensation of holding a book and turning the pages.

Books have a feel and smell computer devices cannot imitate. People still want books.

“I remember back in the ‘70s when there was a recession, libraries lost a lot of their funding and there were lots of books on the market,” Monie said. “The ‘80s were boom years for collectors.

“And now we have seen another recession. The Internet has really changed the business, too.”

Monie asked his son, Willis Monie Jr., to join the business at the end of the 1990s. Willis Monie Jr. was instrumental in creating the online store.

“I was living in Georgia at the time,” Willis Monie Jr. said. “It was about the time the Internet was just getting started in the late ‘90s or early 2000s. I came back here to help get that going.”

Willis Monie Books has a wide selection of baseball cards and books, Americana, theology, art, history, fiction, literary criticisms and biographies, science and natural history, cookbooks, cinema, business and economics, music and opera, children’s, crime and law, and psychology. The books are listed online from a few dollars to several hundred dollars.