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Longmont Local: Getting a good read on business — Used Book Emporium has been city staple for 25 years

Over the years, the longtime downtown Longmont store has seen many chapters but has held onto its mission to provide affordable literature and sell pre-loved books. 
Debbie Karle, co-owner of the Used Book Emporium in downtown Longmont, stands infront of the store's shelves on March 2, 2021. The family-owned business celebrated its 25th anniversary this year.

Family owned Used Book Emporium has found new homes for books for a quarter of a century. Over the years, the longtime downtown Longmont store has seen many chapters but has held onto its mission to provide affordable literature and sell pre-loved books. 

Carol Grossman started the Used Book Emporium’s story in 1996 on Ninth Avenue after working at other used bookstores around Boulder County. After less than two years, the business relocated to 346 Main St., the oldest building in downtown Longmont that once housed the J. B. Thompson and Traylor hardware stores. 

Grossman, an avid reader, worked alongside her daughters, Linda Uhrich and Debbie Karle. Karle said that while she didn’t get lost in books as much as her mother, her older sister Uhrich “read everything in sight.” Uhrich said her mother opened the Used Book Emporium to reuse books that would otherwise be thrown out and sell them for an affordable price.

After Grossman died in 2004, Uhrich and Karle took over as co-owners. Working with family for several years — the bookstore celebrated its 25th anniversary in early February —  is not without its challenges. But the duo keeps it lighthearted and enjoys running the store together. Uhrich joked that her younger sister can drive her crazy.

2021_03_08_LL_UsedBookEmporium3Debbie Karle, co-owner of the Used Book Emporium, right, helps a regular customer, Jeanette, at the Longmont bookstore on March 2, 2021. Jeanette, who did not provide a last name, has been a customer for about 10 years.  By Ali Mai / For The Leader
“What's it like working with family? You don't want to ask, you know how sisters can be,” Karle said, earning a laugh from Uhrich. “No, but it's good. It's good. And it's nice to be able to carry on our mother's legacy together.”

Karle said one of her favorite memories at Used Book Emporium is working with her family and bringing her now 24-year-old daughter Elyssa Karle with her to work. Uhrich also looks back fondly to when her niece was at the store. She recalls a time when the store moved to Main Street, and she was organizing the science fiction section as her baby niece played and babbled to her.

“And so she did that while I shelved the science fiction and we were both happy,” Uhrich said.

The sisters have watched other children grow up at the bookstore. One of their employees remembers sitting in the store’s rocking chair and flipping through children’s books, Uhrich said.

The Used Book Emporium is used to seeing familiar faces. Uhrich said there are regulars from around the area, the state and some customers from out-of-state who drop by when visiting Longmont. 

Carol, a regular customer who didn’t provide her last name, on a recent trip to the store filled her tote book with 12 mystery novels and planned to return for more in a couple of weeks. She has visited the store for about 10 years but has come more frequently during the pandemic.

Jeanette, a customer who didn’t also give her last name, started frequenting the Used Book Emporium 10 years ago when she lived in Longmont. She said she enjoys the staff, the book selection and the creaky floors of the historic building.Though she relocated to Loveland, she still prefers to shop at the Longmont store.

“It's my bookstore of choice. Today I drove 45 minutes to get to this bookstore. I’ve been known to drive over an hour to get to this bookstore,” she said.

She held a two-paged printed list of past book purchases and said she has purchased more than 200 books over the years. Selling her old books to the store helps her purchase more, as the Used Book Emporium grants store credit for used books. Jeanette carried a cardboard box full of books in and left with a couple novels she ordered.

While Urich and Karle have watched children grow up and customers return year after year, the store has changed, too. While still primarily a used bookstore — the sisters estimated there are 67,000 used books in their inventory — they also have added new books to the store shelves. Customers also can request the Used Book Emporium order a book that’s not in its inventory, which it sells at a discounted price.

Karle said one of the more challenging changes for the business was switching to digital records about 13 years ago. The change was for the best, Urich said, and keeps track of the large collection. Inventory exceeds the store shelves, with various piles of books stacked on the floor.

2021_03_08_LL_UsedBookEmporium2Books line the floor of the sci-fi and fantasy section in the Used Book Emporium in downtown Longmont on March 2, 2021. The store has about 67,000 used books in its inventory, not including new books and other items.  By Ali Mai / For The Leader
The coronavirus pandemic forced a sudden shift for the business. After closing briefly due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Used Book Emporium added a curbside pickup service in the alleyway behind the store and shortened its hours. 

“It wasn't good those first couple when we had to shut down because it was like one day we learned tomorrow we will be closed, but we survived,” Uhrich said. 

Despite the complications, the Used Book Emporium has seen most of its dedicated customers return. However, Uhrich said she looks forward to when they can again host events and book signings. 

As the world around the Used Book Emporium changes, Karle hopes the business will adapt and grow with it.

“We've had many changes,” Karle said. “I’m sure there's more changes to come. So just growing and changing with the times.”

But some things haven’t changed much during the Used Book Emporium’s 25-year history. The small rocker is still in the children's section, old books are saved from the trash and two sisters continue the family business.

2021_03_08_LL_UsedBookEmporium5The Used Book Emporium, a family-owned bookstore in downtown Longmont has been in business for 25 years. For most of its history, it has occupied the storefront at 346 Main St.  By Ali Mai / For The Leader