Book smarts

Ann Malson

Photo By David Robert

Ann Malson said the Paperback Exchange is “just an open, friendly place.” There was no doubt about that. In the few minutes we spoke, several people joined in the interview, and store regulars stopped me to attest to how wonderful the store and Malson are. The Paperback Exchange, 322-8822, has been open for 31 years at 131 Vesta St., between what was Placido and what is Rapscallions, and Malson has been helping customers six days a week for 26 of those years. “She lives here,” someone shouted from the back of the store when I asked Malson how often she works. The store is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Malson is there every day until 1 p.m.

Why do you think it’s better to shop here than somewhere like Barnes & Noble?

You can get the back-issues. I find many books—for people who have been looking all over for five or six years—that we’ve just had in storage. So we get people from all over the country coming here buying the books they can’t find somewhere else.

How far do people travel to shop at the Paperback Exchange?

OK, I’ll tell you, one day I was in here, and I was talking to a customer, and they asked me about the store, and I told them we have people come in regularly from Washington, Oregon, California, Canada, Wyoming, whenever they’re in town. The lady looked at me skeptically until a woman walked up and said, “Hi, Ann, I’m here from Oregon for my usual run.” Another one came and said, “Oh, I’m down from Seattle, Wash.” Another lady came to the door and said, “Hi, Ann, I’m here from Canada for my usual run.” And this lady looked at me, and thought “she isn’t really spinning me,” because we do get people from everywhere, and they come in by recommendation from bookstores in other states.

What do you get out of working here?

I love books, and I love people. I find all kinds of satisfaction. I make people happy—Hiya, Rosie [Malson says to a woman who just walked in]—I know most of my customers. Plus, I read a lot of books. I follow them to make sure I don’t sell people a bunch of duds, stuff they see at the store that looks great because of the covers.

Do you keep up with your regular customers and what they read so you can give them recommendations?

Yes, I do. Plus, a lot of senior citizens come in here, and they’ve been in and out of the hospital and operations, and they’re forgetful, and they forget what they’ve read. They’ll come up and bring a book to the desk, and I’ll say, "Hey, honey, you read this six months ago," and they can’t believe it until they take it home and read it. They come back and say, "Darn, Ann, you were right." But really, I do. I keep up with their tastes and their interests so that I know what to recommend. It expedites things.