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Opening a bookstore? Hit the books first

@Money December 8, 2011: 5:44 PM ET
Bill Skees, 56, of Glen Rock, N.J. ditched his job as an IT development director for a new career as a bookstore owner.

Bill Skees, 56, of Glen Rock, N.J. ditched his job as an IT development director for a new career as a bookstore owner.

(MONEY Magazine) -- Bill Skees has been a bibliophile for as long as he can remember. His favorite haunt growing up in Midland, Texas, was a bookstore called Miz B's. "I'd look at her behind the counter and think, 'That's got to be the greatest job in the world,' " he says.

In the decades that followed, Skees crossed the country for various jobs in IT, most recently heading development for a gaming company. But the work was stressful, and every chance he got, he slipped off to a bookstore. All the while, he dreamed of opening his own shop.

In 2003, Skees -- then 49 and settled in Glen Rock, N.J. -- began laying the groundwork.

While transitioning to IT consulting, he attended a course on opening a bookstore, networked with shop owners, and ran financial models. Though indie stores were under great pressure from e-books and online retailers, this didn't deter him.

The bigger stumbling block: real estate. "It was just too expensive in my area." He decided to put off the idea until he retired and could move.

A dog walk one day in 2010 changed the timetable. While ambling in nearby Hawthorne, N.J., he spotted a store for rent. The price per foot was far cheaper than in the tonier areas he'd scouted. So with the support of his wife and three kids -- then 17, 19 and 34 -- he winnowed down his consulting clients and signed a lease.

Well Read Books opened just over a year ago, its inventory of 12,000 titles ranging from nonfiction to sci-fi.

Free Wi-Fi, book clubs, and author events have helped lure customers, and Well Read should break even in 2011 if it continues to average sales of $500 a day. Skees won't go on the payroll until 2013, though. And he'll probably never match his old salary of $150,000. But he says he's not in it for the money and is plenty happy with his decision.

His only complaint? "One day I'd love to have time to read a book again!"

How he did it

Amount needed to start up: $205,000

Skees spent $63,000 on improving the space (he and his family did much of the work); $43,000 on equipment, $99,000 on inventory.

He struck a deal with an antiques dealer to use its Adirondack-style chairs for seating and a rosewood table for displays.

Rate on family loans: 3.5%

"At the time I was starting up, small-business bank loans were hard to get," says Skees. So he instead asked his six siblings for help.

He raised $124,000 from them, borrowing on a three-year term. He and his wife, Mary Ann, tapped savings for the remaining startup costs.

Annual income from other sources: $60,000

Skees still does some IT consulting on the side, and after a 15-year hiatus to raise the kids, Mary Ann went back to work as a teacher.

The couple also have $200,000 in cash to cover additional living expenses -- besides having a total of $600,000 set aside for retirement and college.

Last year they still managed to contribute to an IRA.  To top of page

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