Antiquarian Book Fair At 25
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Dad Will Monie and son Willis don’t minimize challenges to the book business, but the Internet Age has also opened up opportunities.
Willis Monie Books has one million volumes in its building at 139 Main St., easily available to the half-million visitors who come to Cooperstown annually, plus the 60,000 county residents.
Of the total, 125,000 books are online, and they are available to the 320 billion people worldwide – 81 percent of the developed world; more than half of all humankind – expected to be on the Internet by year’s end.
So it’s no wonder you can see son Willis almost daily pushing a cart with a couple dozen Internet-generated orders downtown Main Street to the post office. Many Mondays, 50-70 orders await processing.
This weekend, the Monies are bullish as Otsego County’s annual celebration of books, the Antiquarian Book Fair, passes the quarter-century mark. The 25th annual fair is 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, June 29, at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown.
It’s about more than books alone, dad Will said: “I think of it as a cultural event that benefits the whole region.”
He has the perspective to know: He’s been in the middle of it since its founding in 1994 in Oneonta. With Hartwick and SUNY students gone until fall, however, organizers soon concluded that busy summertime Cooperstown would be a better venue.
In those early days, Will was helped by the late Ed Brodzinsky, the Schenevus book dealer, whose wife Mary, since Ed’s passing in 2014, still helps with the fair’s logistics.
For a few years, NYSHA (the New York State Historical Association) sponsored the event, but Will, who spent 15 years on the Cooperstown Central school board, three as president, shifted that to CFEE, the Cooperstown Foundation for Excellence in Education.
The total gate – 400-500 people pay $4 to get in – goes to CFEE, used to underwrite school activities that don’t fit into the budget, such as the quiz team, which this spring went all the way to fifth place in the National Academic Quiz Tournament’s small school division.
The fair also provides $50 to people willing to host a book dealer overnight – the price of motel rooms around here in the summer, if you can even get one in high summer, could discourage the vendors across throughout the Northeast from signing up.
A Hartwick College grad from Westchester County, Will met wife Barbara, a SUNY Oneonta undergrad from Walton, while there, and both went off to the University of New Hampshire, where he obtained a Ph.D. in English lit and she got her master’s in education.
Both taught for three years in West Virginia, until 1979, when Will connected with Roger Butterfield, a Cooperstown bookseller, and signed on for a four-year apprenticeship. His first independent book-storage barn was on Pioneer Street, selling books, not retail, but via catalogue.
He bought 139 Main in 1989, and son Willis joined him in 2000.
Every bookseller has a story about That One Book. In Will’s case, it was obtaining a 1755 first edition of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, which he sold for $15,000.
But despite a dip in the book business – and businesses generally – in the 2008 Great Recession, things started getting back to normal for Willis Monie Books by early in this decade.
As the Monies see it, they sell rare books, but their foundation customers are people who read and are looking for a particular and not-particularly-expensive book – via Amazon, Alibris or wilmonie.com.
They’ll also tell you other book vendors around here – Gail Larsen’s Tintagel Books in East Springfield, specializing in rare books, many dealing with Central New York History, Bill Elsey at Leatherstalking Book, near Glimmerglass Opera, which specializes in mysteries, and Cat Nap Books, Cobleskill – are doing fine.
“On the whole, book stores are closing down,” said son Willis. “Why have the store? Why have the employees? Why pay rent?” he said. “There’s no sense to do this if you can go online.”
He continued: “We’re unique. We’re in a tourist area. We own our own space. We can ship out of here. We still get a lot of foot traffic. The business is changing. But the business is not going away.”