A new bookstore in Woodbury is a serene place to browse, except when the action heats up at the karate studio next door. Then, odd shouts penetrate the walls.
Jason Burbul, the 43-year-old owner of A Greener Read, sighs but also smiles.
“It would bother me,” he said, “if the kids and their parents were not such great customers.”
The store, which opened last month, brings 15,000 items priced below $5 to a strip mall near the corner of Valley Creek Road and Woodbury Drive. And there’s a story behind it.
Q. Why Woodbury?
A. It’s densely populated with lots of people who buy books. Stillwater was an option too, but I knew a guy who has multiple strip malls and was able to work out a favorable arrangement here, using some previously vacant space.
Q. But it was going to be east metro, no matter what?
A. Yes, it’s our part of town: I lived in Oakdale for 22 years before moving to St. Paul recently and opening my core business there, out of the old Hamm’s building at Minnehaha and Payne. The core business is to collect and sort books through outdoor recycling bins — we have 25 in the metro — and other channels. We sort through and sell some, donate others, and recycle the rest. We’ve been stockpiling the really good stuff, and this is our first retail try. Woodbury is first, and we have a signed lease for a second location in the Hamm’s building starting in May.
Q. How do you decide what might sell here and what gets pulped and turned into cardboard?
A. We use algorithms online as to what is still selling … Between the bins and other sources, including thrift store overflow, or people who have book sales and end up with too many, we sort through about 10,000 books a month.
Q. Your 3 to 7 p.m. hours seem very suburban: very commuter, very school day hours.
A. Exactly. There’s a dance studio nearby as well as karate, and so tons of people drop kids off and then stop by and shop for themselves, and then when the child is done with the lesson, he or she comes in and finds a young reader, young adult stuff. Our stock here is more youthful than St. Paul will be, where I think the taste will be more adults, and urban adults, if that makes sense.
Q. What other differences do you expect between the urban and suburban?
A. We’re using the “under $5” model in Woodbury but we won’t in St. Paul. One thing we will do in St. Paul but probably not Woodbury is take older books from the ‘30s to ’50s and deconstruct them into components that can be used for art projects, decoupage, etc. — ‘upscaling’ that requires expertise on our end. Artists take old dictionary pages and turn them into framed paintings, Pinterest stuff. Old leatherbound books get refashioned into diaries or whatever.
Q. Your shelves contain all kinds of $30 books selling for $3, lots of hardcovers, but a bit more randomly organized than people are used to.
A. All the fiction is on a shelf together but not by author, it’s more of a treasure hunt. This is not a place to look for a specific book — that will be tough for us. But we did make the effort to put all of the Jodi Picoult books together for instance, so her fans can go right to the spot.
Q. You’re also recycling DVD’s, CD’s, video games.
A. Yes and that’s another difference between the two stores. In St. Paul we will sell vinyl albums, knowing that these days artists will take, say, the Beatles’ “White Album” cover and the record and a turntable and frame them for a customer as personalized art. We’ll provide material for that sort of thing, starting small.
We’re a re-use company, at A Greener Read; that’s the heart of what we do. I’m idealistic; all the businesses I’ve started and run since about age 29 have been high on idealism.