Obadiah Baird grew up in bookstores.
He’s the co-owner of The Book Bin, the used book store with locations in downtown Salem and Corvallis, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this summer.
The Baird family hopes to celebrate 40 more, and they’re actively planning ways to stay relevant in a business that’s always changing. Baird owns the business with his parents, wife and sister.
The Book Bin began as a used book shop in Corvallis in Baird was just 3 in 1983. The Salem shop opened in 1995, also focusing on used books. Since then, the industry has changed dramatically. Online retailers have taken a significant amount of a small bookstore’s business, and in-person shopping isn’t as common as it once was, Baird said.
“I think it has gotten a lot harder for bookstores to do one thing, do it well, and survive doing that one thing. So it’s harder to be just a new book store or just a used book store than it used to be,” Baird said.
Both shops now carry both new and used books. Rare book rooms, packed with plenty of curiosities from the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres, are open by appointment in both locations. And the Salem shop hosts plenty of events, including a monthly book reading with members of the Salem Capitals basketball team.
Loyal customers remain.
“I talk to customers all the time who tell me they’ve been coming to our store since they were kids. Having worked in the Salem store for so long, there are people I have known since they were children who are adults now in our community. They’ve grown up in front of me over the years, which is a really great thing,” Baird said.
Baird says shoppers come back, in part, due to the buying experience only a physical bookstore can offer.
“The element of serendipity isn’t really replicated when you shop online. You find the book that you know you want, but you can’t find the book that you don’t know you want,” he said. “What browsing in a physical bookstore provides you is the opportunity to go to a section where you know you enjoy books in that category, and you can encounter books that you didn’t know you wanted.”
Staff members do their part to enhance the experience.
“We really try to be in tune with our communities, both in Corvallis and Salem. We have an excellent staff who work really hard at understanding trends not just nationwide but what people in Salem are interested in and looking for. That’s a huge part of what we offer,” Baird said.
Shoppers can tell staff about their favorite genres and books and get relevant suggestions. It’s not uncommon for multiple staff members to collaborate in that process, Baird said.
Unofficial staff member Rose is another draw. The female red tabby was adopted from the Willamette Humane Society (now Oregon Humane Society) in 2013 and lives full time at the shop.
She’s been described as a little feisty, as customers are encouraged to ask for her “most gracious permission” before petting her. But she loves to pose for photos. She played mascot for The Book Bin’s official 40th celebrations, and 20% of sales on September 9 went to the humane society in her honor. Other recipients included the Whiteside Theatre in Corvallis and the Pentacle Community Theatre in Salem.
“We realized that what makes 40 years in Corvallis and 28 in Salem important to us is the way that we’ve been able to be part of the community and how much support we’ve gotten from the community. In looking at that, we decided that rather than budgeting advertising dollars, we would rather work with important nonprofits in the community and offer support,” Baird said.
The Baird family has plans for the future, including adding events to the calendar, such as more book club meetings and author readings. And The Book Bin is now taking the brand on the road. Three to five times per year, the team packs a van with rare books and brings them to antiquarian book fairs in places like Los Angeles, Denver, and San Francisco. Baird also went to Europe this summer to purchase collectible books for the Salem and Corvallis shops.
“We’re trying to diversify in as many directions as we can, in order to have a resilient business,” Baird said.
The Book Bin is located at 450 Court St. NE in Salem and is open every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Schedule an appointment to visit the rare book room or find out more about upcoming events on the website.
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Jean Dion is a freelance writer and marketing professional. She's lived in Salem for about 10 years. When not writing, she dabbles in gardening, photography, and caring for her dogs, cats, and rabbits.