By Eric Moody
Special to the Sparks Tribune
The oldest and last remaining stand-alone bookstore in Sparks could soon be closing its doors.
The Book Gallery, a general interest used book shop that has been open for 30 years at 1203 Rock Boulevard, is now for sale by its longtime owner and will shut down unless a buyer is found in the next few months.
Although Sparks has experienced tremendous growth over the past 40 years, the number of bookstores in the community has steadily dwindled. These businesses – defined as retail shops devoted solely or primarily to the merchandising of books and related printed materials – have been faced with a variety of challenges, chiefly competition from large chain bookstores in the area and online booksellers like Amazon. The growing popularity of e-books has also adversely affected “brick and mortar” bookstore sales, here as elsewhere.
Since the early 1970s about two dozen bookstores have come and gone in Sparks. Today, only a handful of “big box” stores and supermarkets with modest book sections, several small businesses which sell books (often in specialized fields) as part of their larger operation, and thrift shops that include books among their offerings represent what’s left of retail bookselling in the city. At the beginning of 2018, the number of self-identified bookstores was down to four, and by September only two were left: the Book Gallery and the little New Life Christian Book Store, which has always been operated in conjunction with a contract post office and a gift shop at its 546 Greenbrae location.
The Book Gallery opened early in 1988, in a strip mall space formerly occupied by Knotty Knora’s Knits yarn shop. Just a year and a half later, the original owners, Bill and Diane Custer, sold the store to Joseph Chiappetto, a native New Yorker (he grew up in Brooklyn) and Navy veteran who had landed in the Reno-Sparks area a few years earlier. At the time, Joe was working as a dealer in casinos on cruise ships, and was away from Nevada for a good part of each year. The store seemed like a good business to own – and it would give his mother, Madeline, something to do while he was at sea. This scenario changed somewhat when Joe decided that he would stay in Sparks and operate the Book Gallery full-time. Madeline helped out at the store, filling in for Joe on occasion until her death in 1997.
The store did well, gradually expanding into the spaces on either side of it while dealing in a wide variety of publications – everything from paperback fiction and hardcover classics to gardening books, history texts, and automotive manuals, with some comics, CDs and videos on the side.
After more than a dozen years of book selling, however, Joe became restless and decided to pursue other business opportunities. In 2003 he sold his bookstore to Phil Davis, a local advertising man. The store continued to prosper, but after a decade Phil grew tired of the shopkeeper’s routine – and sold the Book Gallery back to Joe.
Since 2013 the store, presided over by its genial proprietor, has remained a welcoming destination for many regular customers, and steadily attracts other people “checking out” a place they have just discovered or have passed by many times without visiting.
But now Joe has reached a suitable retirement age and would like to take it easy, hopefully to sit on a beach somewhere, perhaps in Florida. He has enjoyed his years in the book business – he says he’s been “comfortable in this line of work,” but it’s time to turn the store over to someone else.
The Book Gallery went on the market this past summer. Joe has received numerous inquiries, but so far no serious potential buyer has appeared. He plans to keep the store open and available until the end of the year, but if it hasn’t sold by then he’ll hold a clearance sale and the doors will close.
Joe points out that the store is modestly priced, has always made money, and would be perfect for someone with modest needs – possibly semi-retired – who wants to own and operate a small business. It might be purchased by several partners who could share in its daily management, and not have to hire any additional employees.
Anyone interested in learning more about the Book Gallery and its sale can call Joe Chiappetto at the store (356-8900) or email him at email@example.com.
If no purchaser is found, the Book Gallery will close and Sparks, a bigger city than ever, will be without a general – non-specialty – bookstore for the first time in nearly half a century.