Through the ever-changing landscape of Downtown Champaign there has been a literary rock that has been present for the past four decades. Deriving its name from Nobel Peace Prize winner and reformer, Jane Addams Book Shop is a secondhand haven for book lovers and thrift shoppers alike. This three-floor shop is artfully organized to the brim with gently loved books just looking for a new place to call home. We were given a two-for-one deal with this interview because we were able to sit down with Jane Addams’ owner, Susan Elmore, and her daughter-in-law and store manager, Judy Elmore, as we discussed Jane Addams Book Shop throughout the years.
Tell me about yourself and how you got started with Jane Addams Book Shop.
Susan: Well, we have owned the business for 12 years. So, what happened is that there used to be this bar called Boltini’s so my husband and I were sitting out there drinking with Paul, the son of the woman that owned Jane Addams, and I said to him “oh if your mom ever wanted to retire and sell this place…” indicating that I would love to be a part of Jane Addams. So, a few years later he gives us a call and tells us that his mom is ready to sell the building but wanted to ensure that with the building the business was also able to stay as it was. At that time, I was thinking about retirement one day, not about taking over a whole business, but we thought about it and knew it was something that we would like to do. Plus, Judy has a background in library science so we asked her if she would be willing to quit her job and start this with us and she said, “One hundred percent, yes!” So here we are. The previous owner, Flora, owned it for 25 years and we have had it for 12, so it will be the 40-year anniversary of Jane Addams in 2024.
What are each of your roles within the company?
Susan: As the owner of Jane Addams, my biggest thing is that used book shops tend to become like a cluttered hoarders mess and so from the beginning my thing has been that I am the only one who is unafraid to say, “Let’s get rid of this, let’s get rid of that.” When I come in, I pull things off the shelf, and I keep things organized. I think that is an important thing to do here. I also order all our cards, journals, games, and puzzles, and do accounting; but the main thing that I do is keep everything organized. Judy does everything else, and our customer’s love her!
Judy: Being the manager, my job is to bring in customers to buy what we take in. I work very hard on getting people to come into the store. We have a lot of people that won’t order books online, who don’t want to deal with that kind of stuff, and I will make special orders for them.
You have such a huge inventory – how do you get all the books that you sell at Jane Addams?
Judy: Half of them… no, most of them… probably 75% of them come from people walking in the door with a box or a couple of bags of books. They will get store credit for donations or sometimes they just want to donate because they are moving out of the town or some other reason.
The rest of the inventory comes from big collections when we go to people’s houses to look at their books and offer them a small amount of money to haul them out. These aren’t only special books; they can be your general books that people have collected over the years and the owners are ready to part ways with them. We will go in to look, box them up, and haul them out so that they don’t have to lift a finger.
How have you been able to keep your business thriving in a time in which technology runs everything?
Susan: The used book industry is a very interesting world. The thing about used books is that a lot them are not online. Many nonfiction books not available online or as an e-book. Many are out of print and will never be transitioned into digital formats. Books are often more than just text and I think that people just appreciate books for just being books.
Judy: We get a lot of people from out of town who travel through, and they say that used book shops are just not that common anymore. The University [of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign] has helped as we get a new batch of students that discover us every year and, if we are lucky, we get them returning for four years and they will sell the books that they bought back to us when they graduate. There’s a lot of factors into why we’re thriving, and we are very lucky that we are in a community that supports this.
Having been the owner of Jane Addams for over 12 years, how has the ever-changing scenery of Downtown Champaign affected your business?
Judy: It’s been positive for us. I mean the revitalization of downtown over the past 20 years has been great for most of the businesses that have been here for a long time. The hotel was an amazing addition that has been great, I think, across the board for many businesses in the neighborhood. Plus, all the events that people try to bring downtown has been great.
Susan: We have been very fortunate in the fact that our community and our amazing customers have been so supportive of us throughout the years, and it just excites us to see all of the new businesses that have come in that help bring even more of the people we love through our front doors.