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Wharton: A new bookstore in a digital age

Published May 11, 2013 11:39 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Murray • Patrons who wander into Marissa's Books inside a strip mall at 5664 S. 900 East often look at owner Cindy Dumas and wonder whether she is crazy to open such a store in the digital era.

"We get numerous comments and thank-yous for opening a bookstore here along with five or six people a day who look at me and say 'What are you thinking?' " said Dumas, whose store opened March 15 after a trial holiday run at a warehouse.

Marissa's sells new, used, rare and vintage paperback, hard-cover and coffee-table books. Books at the store are not catalogued, but are placed in collections that include fiction, nonfiction, history, children's, self-help, business, photography, how-to and religious books, including a large number of LDS publications.

The store offers cold drinks. Dumas hopes to add coffee eventually. Comfortable chairs, art on the walls and a fun children's area invite customers to sit and browse.

Marissa's is named after Dumas' 7-year-old granddaughter, who is featured flying into the clouds with a kite made of books in bookmarks and a big photo on the window of the store.

"One of our favorite pastimes is going to bookstores when she and I get together," said Dumas. "We could stay there forever. When I decided to open this, I knew she would be excited. She said 'Oh, Grandma, let's name it Marissa's Books.' I thought, 'What could be a better name?' "

The idea to open a bookstore came suddenly and almost by accident. Dumas' son owns a construction company and often searches for equipment at auctions and estate sales. He discovered a warehouse that held close to 40,000 books, many of them new. Dumas purchased the entire stock and, during the 2012 Christmas holiday season, sold books out of a warehouse.

Dumas, who is a senior at the University of Utah, discovered that used books could also be found stored in sheds and homes. Some folks have so many that they take them to the dump for lack of storage space. In addition, a surprising number of self-published authors give titles away, sometimes as a way to promote new books that are the second in a series.

Many customers have discovered that Dumas is seeking older books and call her. She also attends yard sales in search of inventory.

This system allows Marissa's to sell books, especially used ones, at deeply discounted prices.

The question is whether a traditional independent store such as this one can survive in an era when even big-box chain stores are struggling to compete with online retailer Amazon and e-readers such as Kindle, Nook and iPad. Dumas readily admits that many establishments such as hers are struggling, but she still feels as though there is a market for traditional books.

"We cater to book lovers in general," she said. "A lot of people do collect rare books. A bunch of people in Utah, especially in Murray, enjoy an old or vintage book. They just have a smell, look and feel. They are heavier than they are now. We pick up as many of those as we can."

Most customers are over 30. Dumas printed up hundreds of bookmarks to distribute, encouraging students and children to also come and discover books. She said most patrons comment that Murray needed a bookstore such as this one.

"I've never been swayed by what the giants are doing," she said. "When you are local, you get a local following. We are doing a decent amount of business, but you have to build it."

As for her personal tastes in books, Dumas loves history, true crime and nonfiction. Her film classes at the University of Utah have also opened up new avenues and subject matters.

For now, she continues to fine tune a relatively new venture, with a cautious optimism that in this digital age, some folks still like curling up with a traditional book.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribtomwharton