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Bookstore thrives despite electronic books and giant retail chains

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

The age of electronic books and giant retail chains has all but dwarfed the success of small book stores.  But one Chattanooga woman is determined to keep her small business running and share her love for a good paperback.      

It's safe to say Helen Aiken has a love affair with books. "There's something tangible about having a book and being able to open it and flip through the pages. There are people who claim they even smell good. I'm not so sure about that!"

Aiken is the owner of 'The Book Rack' on Dayton Boulevard.  It's the oldest, independently-owned book store in Chattanooga.

"I think of it as one step between a library and a retail store."

Row after row of used books fill the space.  Helen used to get lost in the store as a customer.
Then, one day she was hired on as a part-time employee.

"For four years I sat here and thought, 'If I had a chance, what would I do to make more money? What could I do to make it better?"

After running the store for decades, the previous owner became ill and was dipping into her savings to keep it open.
     
"She forced me to buy it, by selling it to me for a dollar."

Just a dollar and Aiken took on the challenge of alphabetizing all 50-thousand books and organizing the place.

"And then we have a 50 cent room back here for the bargain hunters."

For Helen, it's about keeping a sense of community alive. "You get a bunch of book people together, they're going to start talking about what kind of books they like. You know, do you like this character? You like the ending to that book?"

"It's pretty neat."

Betty Davis has been trading in books for 10 years. "They have just about anything you can want to read."

"The support of the customers that are regulars, has just been fantastic."

She says thankfully, there are others out there who share her love as well.

"I like to hold a book, you know? I don't like to read electronic stuff. I'd rather read it the way I learned to read it, in a book that you open and hold in your lap!"

"This is for the nitch people who really like paperbacks. Who want to read in the bathtub and don't want to drop in a 'nook' in the bathtub. I mean, if you hurt one of these books, you're not out a lot of money."

She says as long as bookworms are out there, she looks forward to what the next chapter holds for The Book Rack.'  

"I don't ever expect to make a ton of money here, obviously. But I'd like to keep it open and maybe make a little bit of a living from it (laughs)."

This March will mark one year since Aiken bought the store.  The Book Rack will also celebrate 38 years of being open!

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