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JoAnn Carroll back in book lovers’ paradise

By Staff | Nov 17, 2011

Behind JoAnn Carroll at the new store are 5,000 books priced from $1 to $5.

LAHAINA – Book lover JoAnn Carroll closed her ten-year-old Lahaina Book Emporium in August. But this lifelong, highly knowledgeable seller of books is back, presiding over sale of many of the same volumes she once stocked.

Book fans can now find Carroll at the Maui Friends of the Library’s new used bookstore at The Wharf Cinema Center.

Carroll said she always had her nose in a book alongside her father growing up in Southern California, after her folks migrated 70 years ago from Pittsburg, Kansas – what teachers said was in the geographical center of the U.S.

Lahaina’s best friend of book lovers has made a career out of selling books. This veteran of a book trade now beset with the challenge of digital books got her first selling gig in Kona, when she migrated from the Mainland at the suggestion of a sister who lived in the islands.

After starting as a sandwich maker at a local steakhouse – “Best job I ever had,” Carroll said – she wandered into Middle Earth, an iconic local bookstore that closed just a few years ago.

“It was great – the best bookstore west of Harvard because of the sophistication of its owner, who used to (joke) that he never read books,” Carroll recalled.

Lured to Maui, she was hired by a new firm called Booklines started by a retiree from Eastman Kodak, who began in Hawaii selling Bibles out of the back of his car.

At Booklines, Carroll learned she wasn’t destined for sales. “I hated asking people to buy things,” she said.

One day, visiting Iao Theatre as a board member, she spotted a place for rent across Wailuku’s Market Street.

Soon she opened her first bookshop. Business for one-and-a-half years was poor. A good friend, Barbara Long, suggested she move the shop to Lahaina.

“I can’t afford those rents,” she told Barbara. “Those owners over there are too greedy!”

But she did find a rent-able spot in an alley. Restaurateur Mark Ellman of Mala Ocean Tavern and Honu Seafood & Pizza was then operating his Avalon across the way.

Later, she moved to 505 Front Street but couldn’t make a go of it. So she returned to the alley near Moose McGillycuddy’s.

“The Emporium did fine for awhile, but I could see the handwriting on the wall. It was fading. Then I lucked out,” she reported.

Book connoisseurs Machelle and Tom Stabler, good customers, made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. They bought her entire stock of 25,000 books and even packed everything up.

In a remarkable twist, 5,000 of these books are back under Carroll’s control as part of the new inventory of the Friends’ Lahaina bookstore.

The Stablers added the best books to their own collection and donated the remainder – thousands of them, including many gems – to the Maui Friends of the Library.

The Friends sold $9,000 worth in a special sale last month in Kahului, with the funds used to support Maui’s libraries. They placed the rest in the new Lahaina shop in space provided rent-free by the owners.

What lies ahead for the book industry is an open question, Carroll noted.

“You can now buy any book on Amazon and get it in three days,” Carroll declared.

“There will always be certain types of bookstores antiquarian… but they will be selling real high-end collectible. New generations have been born into electronics.”

Digital books on Kindle, Nook and the Apple iPad are taking over.

“People are downsizing,” she added. “They used to want a wall of books. Now they say they are taking up too much room.”

The new shop benefits, since locals already are coming in to donate books that will expand the store’s catalog.

In Lahaina, book buyers’ favorites include mysteries (the shop has close to 20 shelves of them), Hawaiiana books, travel stories, histories – “Many veterans like to buy World War II books,” Carroll said – and children’s stories.

Jo Ann now volunteers at the new shop, but she is looking for helpers to sort books and record sales. Her goal is to stock the place with books up to the ceiling.