Buday Books: 60+ Years Of Bookselling By One Owner
Rita Buday, or "Mrs. B."
By Michael Stillman
In an era when so many booksellers have struggled, often unsuccessfully, to survive, we found one that has managed to weather many storms through numerous eras. Buday Books of rural Gilbertsville, in upstate New York, has been in business, under the same proprietorship, for over 60 years. Perhaps someone has been at it longer, but we have not met them. This story begins in 1947, the year Victor and Rita Buday were married. It has been running continuously ever since. We recently interviewed Mr. Buday to learn more about this remarkable survivor, and what advice they might have for struggling booksellers thinking of closing the doors after just a few years.
Rita ("Mrs. B") was a copy editor at the Saturday Review of Literature in New York in 1947. Victor ("Mr. B") worked for the printer which published the Review. Both were "book junkies," with interests in the sciences, classic literature, graphic arts, and metalworking. They were married that year, after which they moved to Long Island. Mrs. B began working for a daily newspaper, Mr. B for a printer. It was then that they began selling books, primarily deaccessioned college library books, by catalogue. However, and this is the major piece of advice they would offer newer booksellers, "we kept our day jobs." Those "day jobs" would change over the years, but the Budays never became totally dependent on selling books to make a living.
In 1962, they moved again, this time to rural Gilbertsville, population 502, "including the dog sleeping in the middle of Main Street when the sun shines." They operated their own printing and publishing business, continued to issue book catalogues, and periodically bought out nonfiction collections, to add to deaccessioned university library books from several noted upstate New York colleges.
In 1969, the Budays landed their largest printing customer. They used to run small ads in a long-gone trade publication for their printing business. One day, they received a call from an auction house in New York City asking to see some samples of their work. The following day, a large Buick pulled into their driveway. One of the passengers was Benjamin Swann, of Swann Galleries. Swann had opened his business in 1941 and was now looking for someone who could not only print his catalogues, but guarantee they were mailed on time. Working on tight deadlines, it was essential to an auction house that their catalogues reach their customers in time for them to participate in the sales. Mr. Swann agreed to meet the Budays' price, and pay overtime when necessary, but timely delivery of catalogues was "non-negotiable."
Mr. B then asked what assurance he had of being paid. One of the other gentlemen turned to him and asked whether he realized he had just insulted Mr. Swann. However, Benjamin Swann recognized it as a fair question, and assured the Budays that his word was good and that they would be paid as soon as the catalogues arrived. Both parties were good for their word, as the relationship went on for another 30 years, both during the tenure of Mr. Swann and his successor, George Lowry.
As Swann's business grew under Lowry's ownership, so did the Budays'. They would mail 35 to 40 catalogues per year, all under strict deadlines. This continued until 1998, when, as Mr. B puts it, "our bones creaked." After 50 years, they finally gave up their "day jobs," closing down the print shop and going into the bookselling business full time, though that might also be described as semi-retirement. They had put enough money away over the years to live, not in wealth in retirement, but in comfort. They converted the print shop into a book warehouse, stopped printing catalogues, and began listing books on the internet. AbeBooks was their major site, but after becoming disenchanted with them, closed their Abe shop. Instead, they continue to sell on several smaller sites: Biblio, Antiqbook, and Tom Folio, 61 years after opening for business.
Buday Books: 60+ Years Of Bookselling By One Owner
Victor Buday, or "Mr. B."
How has Buday Books managed to stay in business so long? Victor Buday cited seven factors:
1. He attributes much of their success to the dedication of Mrs. B, someone with a love of and respect for books, always checking, cross-checking, and verifying what was stated.
2. As noted before, they "kept their day jobs," while offering the public authoritative books, carefully packed, priced slightly above the median. Mr. B noted that "there is no such thing as 'easy,' and most booksellers have not died rich. Bookselling dollars were welcome additions to income."
3. They found customers did not like the typical abbreviations most sellers use in catalogues to save space, so they spelled everything out. Clear, customer-friendly descriptions build consumer confidence, they believe.
4. Mrs. B. conducted thorough research to help customers better understand the titles being offered.
5. They always try to be genuinely helpful. "Yes, price is important, but for repeat customers it's not all-important."
6. For normal size orders, "we assume 99% of people are honest." If they find someone who is not, they politely refuse any further sales.
7. "Finally, we treat customers as we wish to be treated. That's how our bookselling has survived change. It's been a steady effort - absolutely fundamental, and simple."
After all of the years of change, you can find Buday Books today where you might expect to find a modern bookseller - on the internet. They have a website which offers books, though that is not its main focus. Before you reach the books listed for sale, or links to search their inventory, you will get a glimpse at why they have loved books for so long. They have published a group of stories on their site they call Vintage Reading. First, there is Rita's Notebook, with true tales from long ago, followed by Stories Heard Over The Back Fence, where the tales are much taller. Most of these were written by Mrs. B, though Mr. B has helped out on a few. They are the product of Rita Buday's digging through forgotten books to bring back entertaining stories long lost to the years. These stories remind us of the true value of books. They are more than just objects to buy and sell, hopefully make a profit upon, and put on a shelf. They are filled with information and entertainment, unobtainable anywhere else, from which we can learn about ourselves, our past, our world. History lives on in the pages of books, as it does in Rita's stories on the website of today's Buday Books. For a look, go to www.budaybooks.com.