Being tall and thin probably makes it easier for David Ek to survey his new realm. He bought The Book Rack in December when the previous owner retired, and now spends a lot of time thinking about ways to expand the beloved used book store’s bulging shelves and popular services.
“There are some minor changes that I’ve already initiated,” Ek said. “I want to make some other changes too, but at the same time … we have a very strong, loyal customer base here. I don’t really want to upset the flow and dynamic of what they’re used to and comfortable with.”
One of the things Ek knows customers are comfortable with is good service. He plans to continue that by going “to great lengths to help them locate books or to find a type of author. That type of service in a small, local, hometown bookstore, to me is as American as apple pie.”
Ek also wants technology to help. He is focused on updating the database of the store’s inventory, and eventually getting it on a website. That will give customers in-store and online a clear picture of the thousands of books that are in stock at any given time. Ek also hopes an online presence will strengthen the already vibrant reservation system. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Leave your name and number. A staff member will call – or chase you down the sidewalk, as with a recent customer – when it arrives, and hold it until you pick it up.
Customers also drop books off to earn store credit. Ek continued the store credit program because “that defrays the cost of the books,” he said. He smiled when he added that it “also keeps their shelves in their homes down. So if they have a three bedroom house they don’t need a wing for their library.”
A Seattle native, Ek came to Northern Virginia in June of 2009 after retiring from the National Park Service. He was chief of science and resource management at several parks, most recently in Nevada.
When his wife accepted a teaching position in this area he was happy the family could settle down. Ek wanted to own a small business, but wasn’t sure what type. When a broker told him about The Book Rack, the book lover in him was delighted. “It’s a great place, looks like a good business,” he said, and he’s “happy to see what I can do to add to the continuity that’s been here for a while.” He is the third owner since the store opened in its current location in 1992.
Like many of his customers, Ek likes to browse the store’s constantly changing mix of new and old books. He said the Internet cannot duplicate the experience of “a used bookstore that functions with customer service, your local hometown bookstore that has your loyal customer base that’s been coming here for years. I know it sounds corny,” Ek said, “but it’s a segment of America that it’s kind of nice to be able to keep.”
The Book Rack, 7001-J Manchester Blvd., Alexandria, VA 22310, 703-313-0766
Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday 11:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m., Wednesday 11:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m., Friday 10:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m., Saturday 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m., Sunday 12:00-5:00 p.m.