So Las Vegas isn’t exactly known as a bookish town. Don’t tell that to Ann DeVere. She’ll laugh.
“I’m just so delighted at people telling me people in Las Vegas don’t read anything but the top of a craps table. It’s not true ... there’s a whole culture of readers here,” says DeVere, owner of 20-year-old Plaza Books off Eastern and Warm Springs. “We’re a lot richer culture in that regard than people give us credit for.”
Why is she so upbeat — what with e-books, Amazon, smartphones and the ADD culture of the Internet eating away at the contemplative virtues of the indie book shop? Because DeVere is part of a guild — the Las Vegas Bookmans Guild. If it sounds archaic, that’s because it is. The guild system goes back hundreds of years, when medieval merchants cooperated to establish and maintain standards of their craft. One key element of this old-school idea: focusing more on collaboration than competition. Guild members regularly refer customers to each other and meet monthly to discuss popular literary themes and buying trends. The guild (lasvegasbookmansguild.com) has become a survival tactic in an era of changing reading habits.
“In the used bookstore business, there is no competition,” says guild member Myrna Donato, who co-owns Amber Unicorn Books. Case in point: during the interview, Donato helps a customer searching for a cookbook. When she realizes Amber Unicorn doesn’t carry it, Donato offers to track down a copy at another local store. “Our main goal is to get the book in the hands of the customer. They need to know that they’re valuable.” She says the guild has certainly helped business; Amber Unicorn’s sales are up from last year and she’s even planning to expand the store for the second time in five years. Across the street is something telling: an empty building that once housed a Borders Books.
[HEAR MORE: Hear a discussion of big books that became even bigger movies on "KNPR’s State of Nevada."]
Also nearby is Greyhound’s Books. The store, rich with the smell of bound pages and swells of classical music, is owned by Phil DeFlumear. “We want to eliminate the stigma of crap bookstores,” DeFlumear says of the guild. “You have to be worthy of shopping here to be here.” He doesn’t say this with an impertinent tone; he simply appreciates informed customers who invest time in reading. His own love of books is infectious: DeFlumear shares his 60 years of book store biz wisdom with students at UNLV, where he teaches classes on running a book store. Several of his students are even aspiring used-book store owners — and also part of the guild. Call them the next title in the series.