CEDAR RAPIDS — The thing about Cedar Rapids readers?
“It’s all over the place,” said Ursla Lanphear. “You’ll have a day where were thinking about getting rid of this section of books, and all of a sudden everybody comes in and wants those. You just never know what to expect. After a year now I would’ve thought I’d have a better idea.”
Lanphear and her husband, Bill, opened M&M New and Used Bookstore in October 2017, taking over Basically Books from Donna Young and Bobbie Maclayne, who’d operated the store for 27 years.
The Lanphears’ plunge into the book world came shortly after moving from Colorado. Bill works for Collins Aerospace, but Ursla was looking for something new after 25 years in child care.
“My mom moved here with us, and she was really the reason why I wanted to do this,” she recalled. “We used to take her to used bookstores all the time. It was her very favorite thing to do.”
Lanphear’s mother Marilyn died just two weeks after the move to Cedar Rapids. Shortly after, Lanphear happened to stop at what was then Basically Books.
“It was the most organized used-book store we had ever seen,” she said. “I said, ‘You know, that’s what I want to do with what she left me.’ I wanted to have a bookstore.”
The new name came from Ursla’s mother and a niece, Meg, with whom she frequently exchanged sacks full of used murder mysteries. The name wasn’t the only change.
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“We’ve changed the store almost completely,” Lanphear said. “It was mostly known for romance. I’m more of a mystery-thriller person. My mom loved mysteries, so we decided, let’s change it up a little bit while keeping the same feel.
“We kind of started out slow, making the changes, because there were plenty of people who had been coming here for 27 years. Then all of a sudden, bam, we just went for it. It looks totally different than it did a year ago.”
Lanphear and her small staff organize themed book clubs and author signings to engage their cus-tomers. A different club meets every Thursday at 6 p.m., and a young readers’ club met meets over the summer.
Lanphear donates books to schools, local assisted-living facilities, veterans’ centers, and homeless shelters — “just trying to spread it out.”
She pursues regional authors and subjects and developed a new section for children and young readers this summer.
“It used to be all Harlequin romance back there in this corner, so we took those shelves and we’ve opened up a big kids’ section,” Lanphear said. “We have non-fiction kids’ books, and we have everything from picture books all the way up to young adults.”
Lanphear estimated she’s retained 95 percent of Basically Books’ customers.
“We get them from all over the place,” she said. “There’s a lot of locals from right in the area, but we get people from Vinton, we get people from Iowa City. We have one guy who comes from two hours away — I’m not sure where — and he’ll spend six hours here, going through every section, picking out books.”
Used books, purchased for cash or store credit, go back on the shelves, usually at half the list price. Many regulars resell new books after reading them.
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“We have quite a few customers who do that,” Lanphear said, indicating a nearby shelf. “This is all stuff that was new within the past few weeks and people have already bought them, read them and brought them back. So people who don’t want to spend full price on them can come get them at half price.”
Lanphear’s also developed relationships with other local book sellers.
“It’s interesting that we all work together,” she said. “Barnes & Noble refers people who really want the local authors. Half-Priced Books sends people our way because we have different things than they do, and we send people their way. It’s just working together. Between all of us we can get everybody covered.”
Coexisting with book selling’s online giant is a reality for any book seller.
“We sell our used books on Amazon,” she said. “I even order books for people on Amazon because some of our customers we know don’t have computers and it’s the only way we can get it for them. Instead of fighting Amazon, you kind of have to roll with it and work with them.”
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AT A GLANCE
• Owners: Ursla and Bill Lanphear
• Business: M&M New and Used Bookstore
• Address: 212 Edgewood Rd. NW, Cedar Rapids
• Phone: (319) 396-8420
• Website: mandmbookstore.com