By Steve Cook – BURO Editor
I like to get my Christmas shopping out of the way early and I’ve always liked to give books. I stopped in at Blue Awning Books on Burnet Road to do some browsing and while I was there I asked owner Marshall Hamilton a few questions:
BURO: How did Blue Awning Books get started?
HAMILTON: I worked in publishing for many years until the early 2000’s. My wife and I then started in the used book store business by opening a store in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, a tourist town about an hour from Washington D.C., where a lot of historic events took place. There’s a national park there and most of our customers tended to be park visitors. We were very busy for 7 months of the year but there was nothing happening the other 5 months so we decided we’d move some place where we could have a 12 month business – also a place without snow! We looked for a city that was big, growing, and had a major university and after much research Austin went to the top of our list. We moved here and opened Blue Awning Books in January 2012.
BURO: Why Burnet Road?
HAMILTON: We knew nothing about Austin so our realtor gave us a list of around 25 potential locations – we drove around and looked at every one of them. We saw some interesting spaces on Lamar and on Congress, but then we got to Northwest Center on Burnet Road – the one with the blue awnings. We liked the space, the feeling of the center, and the presence of other stores that would bring people to the center. I was surprised to know that Northwest Center dates back to the 1940’s.
BURO: What sets Blue Awning Books apart from other book stores??
HAMILTON: We deal in quality used books. If you’re looking for the latest John Grisham novel we’re not for you. In the chain stores about 70% of the inventory is fiction. We’re the opposite – with 70% non-fiction. Most of our books are hard cover and they tend to be books that have persistent value. We’ve got a lot of books on history and politics, and a large selection of books on WWII. Some of our books are very old, including an 1836 copy of ‘The Life of George Washington’ by M.L. Weems. We’ve sold books that were published as far back as 1520.
BURO: Where do you get your books?
HAMILTON: We get most of our books from auctions. We recently bought about two thousand books from an auction held by Larry McMurtry. Larry owns a used book store in Archer City, Texas (the fictional town of Anarene in The Last Picture Show was based on Archer City). We actually attended a showing of The Last Picture Show at the theater in Archer City that was the inspiration for the movie.
BURO: Who shops at Blue Awning Books?
HAMILTON: People who like the printed page – we sell ink, not pixels! With the holidays coming, books make terrific gifts. Some people may hesitate to give a used book as a gift, but I would say that if you can find a book that is right down the alley of the person you’re buying for, it would be better to give a 12 year old book that’s in good condition, and is right on topic, than something new that you chose from a stack of hundreds at a chain store.
Blue Awning Books
6009 Burnet Road
Northwest Center (look for the blue awnings!)
Austin, TX 78757