Afton native Mel Mueller has opened a new chapter.
Mueller, 47, launched The Old Tome Bookstore & More at 181 Main St. in Afton in December 2021.
An unfortunate collection of books inspired the shop, Mueller said.
“Some people had a big collection and didn’t want it and couldn’t get rid of it,” she said. “It was probably around 30,000 pounds and people were going to burn them and I said, ‘No, we’re not going to have that, let me have them’, so I bought them and another of my friends introduced me to the retail place. Everything snowballed perfectly. When I got the retail space, I needed more variation than what was originally purchased, I so bought a school, college and a whole bookstore I have about 67,000 books so we have inventory for many years to come.
Although the shop started with a single collection, Mueller said, she has long been a bibliophile.
“I’ve always loved books, secretly, in the background,” she said. “I’m a welder and a fabricator and I’ve always worked with my hands – whether it’s doing farm work or welding or whatever – but I have a huge library of my own and, when it came across to me the knees, I couldn’t say no.
“People know I’ve always been a bookworm and loved research,” Mueller continued, noting that she has degrees in law enforcement leadership, accounting, travel, natural healing, herbal medicine and forensic science. “I’ve always had my nose in a book…but I never dreamed of owning a bookstore; I was brought up as a worker. Fate just threw this in my lap…and I love it.
The inventory, Mueller said, is diverse.
“It’s everything from brand new from the publishers to antique, rare and collectible,” she said. “One of my selling points is ‘welcome to my scavenger hunt’ because I don’t know what I have until I open the boxes. These are children’s books, textbooks – we have all categories of the Dewey Decimal System, although not many people know the Dewey Decimal System. We have a reading program for (kids) in grades 6-12 and an unplugged program where everyone can win free books. We have local artists bringing things to sell… (like) jewelry, bags, we have candles coming in, farm fresh eggs, local honey – that’s a lot.
Mueller said customers also represent a mix.
“I still have people coming in saying, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t know you were here,’ but the biggest response I’ve gotten is people ooh-ing and ah-ing and ( saying), ‘I’m so glad there’s a bookstore in Afton and to say that’s absolutely what we needed,’ she said. the secret reading program, where they can get $12 worth of books a month for free; they love it and a lot of people love that I have older books, not just Barnes & Noble, which is new and popular. They love being able to come and find the old books from the 1800s and look for the weird, unique and weird that you don’t usually see on bookstore shelves and I bring the bestsellers in. (Patrons) like that, he there is a variation of items and not just books; people come to do birthday shopping and graduation because they can get a wide variety of things to give as gifts.
“That’s the amazing thing about the books: they include everyone,” Mueller continued. “So we have children, teenagers, elderly people and we have people who travel. He has, in such a short time, seen people from other countries and states ordering, so that’s everyone.
Streamlining the store’s online presence is the next step, Mueller said, with potential for expansion.
“Books from the bookstore are currently not online,” she said. “It’s a big business, but I will do it in the future. What we have online are two websites that allow us to compete with the big guys and people can support independent bookstores instead of making CEOs rich. Bookshop.org/shop/oldtome has “brand new books and a huge plethora of books,” she said, while librofm/theoldtome has “all audiobooks for people who love their audiobooks.
“In the next five or 10 years, we may have to move to a bigger site,” Mueller continued, “but that’s not something we’re considering right now. We are happy with the space. It’s nice and comfortable; it’s warm and people feel like they’re in a living room when they stop and visit… and we absolutely want to keep that atmosphere.
Mueller said she plans to introduce Dragon Sense, a line of candles and bath salts, in the bookstore as well as online, “within the next six months, hopefully before Christmas.”
Until Labor Day, The Old Tome is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday; 10 to 6 Thursday; 9 to 7 Friday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday.
For more information, find “The Old Tome Bookstore & More” on Facebook or call 607-242-8180.