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CULT OF PERSONALITY: Co-owner Josh Arnett estimates he’s sold 2,000 copies of “Catcher in the Rye.”SBJ photo by WES HAMILTON
CULT OF PERSONALITY: Co-owner Josh Arnett estimates he’s sold 2,000 copies of “Catcher in the Rye.”

SBJ photo by WES HAMILTON

Business Spotlight: Used but not Forgotten

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“A town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not fooling a soul.” -Author Neil Gaiman

Watch a performance at Globe Theatre, catch a transport to Klendathu or hit the road to cover the Mint 400 – those who step inside 325 E. Walnut St. can travel the universe.

In 1,700 square feet sandwiched between a clothing store and a cupcake bakery sits downtown Springfield’s slice of literary culture. Equal parts time machine, spaceship, fact finder and business venture, owners Josh Arnett and Aubrey Prugger started BookMarx two years ago with a stockpile and a dream.

“My house was unnavigable,” says Arnett. “There were at least 5,000 books piled everywhere I could fit them.”




Specializing in the classics, postmodern fiction and science fiction, BookMarx sells new and used books – well, 98 percent are used – to what Arnett calls a built-in audience comprising downtown foot traffic, college students and hipsters.  

“We always wanted to be downtown,” he says, referencing former downtown bookshop Well Fed Head. “There is a culture here. When we host events, people actually come.”

The mix leads to high sales for the works of authors Hunter S. Thompson, J.D. Salinger and Jack Kerouac.

“I’ve probably sold ‘Catcher in the Rye’ more than 2,000 times,” he says.

Park Central Library branch manager Ingrid Bohnenkamp is a friend to Arnett and frequent customer at the bookshop. Bohnenkamp believes small bookshops add soul to a city.

“They are helping create a unified literary scene in Springfield that has been in hibernation,” she says, pointing to the monthly readings from local writers and art exhibits in the back room at BookMarx. “There is a cultural awareness there. It’s a place to gather and expand your mind.”

On any given day, customers are greeted by not only Arnett or Prugger – the store’s only two employees – but also the inquisitive face of Squash the cat. From his window seat, which doubles as a book display by day and book club stage by night, Arnett says the gray and white Maine Coon is the store’s unofficial mascot.

“He’s the reason half the people stop in,” he says with a chuckle.

Through posted specials on Facebook, customers get 10 percent off for their selfie with Squash.

With the rise of e-readers and digital media, 10 percent off can cut into a used bookstore’s already razor-thin margins. BookMarx sells paperbacks for half their cover price. Trade-in value is a quarter of the cover price or an eighth of the cover price in cash.

“The percentages get confusing, so basically we say trade is half the price we sell it for and cash is half the trade price,” Prugger says.  

In its early days, BookMarx sold roughly 40 percent of its inventory online. As foot traffic picked up, today it’s about 10 percent online, mostly first editions and signed copies.

“Springfield just isn’t a big book collecting town. I can get more for them online,” Arnett says of rare books.

A signed copy of Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club” sold for $800 and currently on the shelf is a signed Johnny Cash book for $100. Arnett says his large rotation of books keeps the store afloat, declining to disclose revenues.

Across town, Tom Slattery, owner of one of Springfield’s largest used bookstores, Hooked on Books, says the Queen City’s used book trade is seeing a resurgence.

“New print sales are actually up nationwide and e-books are on the decline,” he says. “That trickles down to us. Bringing your used book in for credit is a lot cheaper than an e-reader.”

With roughly 100,000 titles in stock – compared to around 10,000 at BookMarx – hundreds of books pass through Hooked on Books each day. Slattery says other shops, such as Half Price Books and ABC Books, have been in business for years and he doesn’t see that changing. “Books aren’t going anywhere,” he says.

With a long history in Springfield, used books are in the blood for Arnett. His family owned the now shuttered Book Castle. It was through this experience, love of literature and friendship with Prugger that BookMarx came to fruition.

“Look at this place, she’s better at the aesthetics than me,” he says.

Prugger also is behind the shop’s unique name.

“We had a long list of ‘punny’ names, but I was tepid about BookMarx,” he says. “I was afraid people in southwest Missouri wouldn’t like it or would be mean, but Aubrey loved it.”

No, BookMarx isn’t a communist bookstore. Arnett says despite his trepidation, he hasn’t seen any pushback.

“Maybe people think the threat of Marxism is over? Maybe they don’t know who Marx is?” he ponders. “They didn’t drag me before the (House Un-American Activities Committee) so I guess we’re good.”

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