Open the door to Terry Stillman’s 1,000-square foot rented house and you could confuse it for a library.
He crammed close to 3,000 books in the suite. The kitchen alone has 130 cookbooks.
Stillman, who opened Central Plaza’s Stillman Books (15158 North Bluff Rd.) on Aug. 15, has been regularly buying and selling books – particularly children’s and illustrated books – since 1971.
He was working for Simpson-Sears as a copywriter in Toronto when he picked up the hobby.
“I just got hooked, especially with children and illustrated books, there’s so many beautiful books,” Stillman said.
After 10 years of buying and selling, he turned the hobby into a career with the purchase of his first bookstore in Vancouver in 1981. Selling books has been his full-time job ever since.
After that much time in the business, he’s come across a variety of rare and sometimes expensive books.
The oldest book he’s ever bought and sold was a philosophy book from 1655.
Stillman said the most expensive book he’s sold was an original Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. He sold it in the late ’90s.
“Nobody knows how many editions have been published of that since it first went into English in 1858. This guy translated 75 verses of it to start with. It’s from the 12th century, Persian poem. There’s 1,100 or 1,200 verses to it. But this English guy did 75 verses and printed a little paperback.”
Stillman said he knew a lawyer on the North Shore who collected Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam literature. The lawyer had about 500 books of related material.
“He had the original one. He made a box for it, in what is called a clam shell. You open up the box and it was sitting in the middle in sort of a recess in the box. Well, he sold that for the widow for $12,500. And now, it’s probably $35,000.”
Stillman said there aren’t many collectors today compared to the ’70s thru ’90s. Those collectors, he said, are now older and their family members are trying to dispose of the collections.
“They try to sell it back to the booksellers, but there aren’t many young collectors,” he said. “They’re either living at home or living in a 400-square-foot apartment or sharing a 800-square-foot apartment. They don’t have room for walls of book shelves, antiques, silverware, anything.”
Stillman says he still sees young customers visit used bookstores.
“By the time they get to their 30s, a lot of them made the decision to go back to reading books.”
The advancement of the Internet has been a challenge for the book-selling business, he added.
In a short autobiography from a magazine called Amphora, published in 2002, Stillman briefly writes about his thoughts on the Internet, which was quickly gaining traction at that time.
“The Internet has changed the book business in a few ways, but mostly it is, in itself, a tool which can be used to the benefit of bookstores,” Stillman writes.
Reflecting on that article now, Stillman said the Internet “became a bigger factor than I think we thought it was going to be at the time.”
Stillman closed his Vancouver bookstore in 2002 before taking over ownership of one in Port Moody in 2010.
From 2002 to 2010, he tried operating an online bookstore, but said the sales weren’t consistent enough to pay his bills.
“Continuing to be a bookseller these days is a struggle, but I have a wonderful woman, Julie, in my life who loves me and also loves books and is 100 per cent supportive,” he said.
His White Rock store, which opened in August, has titles from almost all genres, but his favourites continue to be illustrated, pop-ups and children’s books.
He keeps his favourite collection of illustrated and pop-up books at his home, but is willing to bring them into his store if he connects with an interested buyer.
One of his most expensive books for sale – priced at $850 – is an 1906 edition of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, penned by James M. Barrie and illustrated by one of the world’s most famous illustrators, Arthur Rackham.
As he flipped through the pages, he said, finding and sharing collectible books gives him a thrill.
“It’s an interesting field. People always used to come in Vancouver and say, ‘you actually make money selling used books?’ My answer would be the same, and still is, it’s a great way to make a small living. It’s what I do.”