More than 100,000 books from a plethora of genres pack the walls of the aged Biermaier Books. The books pile from the floor to the ceiling, giving the bookstore a cramped feeling and filling the store with the scent of old paper.
For the past 39 years, Bill Biermaier has spent each day, from Tuesday to Saturday, working at the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood store as its owner and lone employee.
“I love being able to introduce people to books,” Biermaier said.
The University alumnus has always had a passion for books because of their look, feel and content. He said older books interest him more because “they just don’t make them like they used to.”
His favorite books have gold bindings and frail, thin pages, he said – qualities that give a book character.
While a student at the University, Biermaier got a part-time job at Fairview-University Hospital while he was collecting books in his free time.
After being promoted to a managerial position with the hospital after graduation, he said he wanted to try something different.
“A friend of mine and I had been collecting books for a while and came up with the idea of owning our own bookstore,” he said.
That idea led the two friends to the business’ current location on Fourth Street Southeast, which was already established. Biermaier asked the owner if he would be interested in selling to him, he said.
After negotiating the price and remodeling for a year, the bookstore opened and he hasn’t left since, Biermaier said.
The changing times
One of the biggest challenges in business, Biermaier said, is the popularity of the Internet.
The problem he said is if people don’t know what they are looking for, in terms of books, they get lost. If someone comes into the store, he can help them find what they are looking for.
“You don’t get that personal touch on the Internet,” Biermaier said.
Jim Cummings, owner of Cummings Books in Dinkytown, said while the Internet has affected his business to some degree, he just sees it as a new way to sell books.
Cummings said while he’s spoken with Biermaier frequently on the phone and in person on occasion, they aren’t close. However, the two have worked together to prevent crime in the past.
There have been times when someone would steal a book from Biermaier’s store and try to sell it at Cummings’s store. In that case, the owners alert each other when it happens, so they know not to buy back the stolen merchandise.
“One time there was a fellow who was stealing them and bringing them to my store,” he said. “We were able to nip that in the bud.”
Biermaier’s store has seen all sorts of events over the course of his ownership, chiefly among them the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge last August.
Witnessing the closing of Gopher Cleaners and Santana Foods, both on the same block, in the aftermath has been hard to deal with, he said.
“This location was good until the collapse,” Biermaier said. “I used to get good foot traffic from the cleaners, but now I don’t.”
Regardless of the challenges his business faces, Biermaier always has one thing to look forward to.
“I really enjoy seeing new students from year to year,” he said.