Used book business faces challenges and uncertainty

Endless towers of jagged-stacked books sprout from every corner at Mora’s Books store. Behind the front counter, nearly hidden under the paperback bindings and dusty pages, owner Darren Mora sorts through some of his new purchases.

“If you keep it too organized it might be bad,” Mora said. “Some people want to be so organized that they become crazy and obsessed about anything that moves.”

Mora is a lifelong San José resident who has been affiliated with the English-language used book store since its beginning in 1988. After working for a couple years under the store’s American founder, Mora bought the store in 1991 and has since kept it loaded. His messy sanctuary includes a wealth of classic literature, an archive of National Geographic books, and loads of popular science fiction. And that is just a small fraction.

Co-worker Ed Welsh estimates that Mora possesses about 500,000 books between what he displays in the storefront and what is boxed up in storage. “I could use four times the space, and we’d still have books on the floor,” Welsh said.

But it seems space is fading within the niche landscape of the used bookstore industry in Costa Rica. Numerous ones have popped up and vanished again within recent years. “In the last twenty years, I could give you a list of 50 that have closed,” Mora said. “The used book business – I would not say it’s tough, but it’s not for everybody.” According to Mora, there is no such thing as a steady income in the business because one month could offer a healthy stream of income while the next one results in a drought.

Now the popular 7th Street Books is closing after 18 years of business, falling as the latest victim to the print-killing trend. Co-owner Marc Roegiers said he expects 7th Street to remain open until a target date of late March, citing insufficient revenue as the ultimate reason for closure.

“It’s not a viable business anymore,” Roegiers said. “Amazon has taken its toll. Everything is going digital.” Before the bookstore shuts the doors, it is holding substantial sales for all books, including its well-known collection of natural history.

For Mora’s business, it helps that his income is not tied down with just his store’s proceeds. He is only scheduled at the shop for two days a week and works on the side as a show producer for musicians and as a radio host. And Welsh, who considers himself retired, works another two days on a most modest contract: The ability to be able to read and borrow some of the books.

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