The Boot Straps column shares success stories in barters and small business ventures. The How-To-Do-It Book Shop is a complete do-it-yourself topics bookstore stocking books on all sorts of help topics.
When Bob Wiley was interviewed by a French television
station about 10 years ago, he didn’t think anything of it.
But within the next year, two people who had seen the
broadcast traveled separately from France to Philadelphia
and visited his unique How-To-Do-It Book Shop. Packed with
thousands of books on almost every imaginable topic, all
the books share one thing–they explain, instruct,
describe, demonstrate, and detail. Their do-it-yourself topics bookstore reveals just how to
do almost anything you might want to do.
Celebrating the store’s 30th year this November, owners
Wiley and Steve Maurer are making it easier for
“do-it-yourself” types to get in touch with valuable
resources. Thanks to a recent mail order catalog, readers
need not travel from France to center city Philadelphia
when they can wait for a package of books to arrive at
their rural route or P.O. Box.
Founded in 1967 by Betty and Herb Shugar, the store has
long recognized an important market. Betty herself was an
original “do-if-yourselfer” and could never find the
information she wanted. Today, the store’s core group of
customers are people in their 40s and 50s who have a
situation–whether it be a relationship or a
roof–and need to deal with it, Maurer says. They are
beyond the question of why; they need a how-to explanation.
“We have a saying that if we can sell somebody The New
Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual (Reader’s Digest), we
have them for life,” Maurer says. “When somebody realizes
they can fix a drain, they can handle life.”
Books range from general topics like home repair to more
specialized areas, like earthworm farming. “We have books
on subjects I didn’t even know existed,” Maurer says.
Customers teach Maurer and Wiley about up and coming topics
so when the how-to books hit the market, they know what to
Wiley started working part-time at the book shop 25 years
ago as a college student studying English literature. Yet
the store carries no fiction, Wiley notes, or any best
sellers either. “We have to make our own best sellers,” he
says. According to Maurer, Wiley was successful when he
took over the book shop from the Shugars in 1984 because he
took chances, ordered new books, and listened to customer
“When you get five calls on a topic, it lets you know
something is happening,” Maurer says. After tracking down a
book on a kind of knitting native to the Faroe Islands (a
Danish county in the north Atlantic) Maurer knew exactly
what to tell the second person who called in search of a
good how-to book on the subject.
Maurer, who started out as a customer at the original
How-To-Do-It Book Shop before coming to work at the store
three years ago, says customers keep in contact with them.
One, after moving to Colorado from Philadelphia, called the
book shop to order all six books in stock, sight unseen, on
how to build your own kayak. Maurer says they get an
average of one call a week from a past customer.
Reader’s Digest also has been known to rely on the
How-To-Do-It Book Shop. When researching a how-to needle
work book Reader’s Digest intended to publish, a
representative from New York visited the How-To-Do-It Book
Shop and bought every related book in stock.
Still holding their own against big chain bookstores, Wiley
says he sees a growing mail order catalog business in the
book shop’s future. The store also publishes a newsletter
and sponsors book signings. Because of the how-to focus of
all the books, signings sometimes also feature
A Sampling of the Thousands of Do-It-Yourself Books
Home & Garden Books
Build a Classic Timber-Framed House–Jack A. Sobon
Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion
Planting for Successful Gardening–Louise Riotte
Country Living Books
The Rammed Earth House–David
Easton (Chelsea Green)*
Raising Poultry Successfully–Will Graves (Williamson)
Folk Remedies That Work–Joan and Lydia Wilen (Harper Collins)
Four-Season Harvest: How to Harvest Fresh, Organic Vegetables From Your Home Garden All Year Long–Eliot
Coleman (Chelsea Green)*
Chilton’s Small Engine Repair (13
to 20 H.P.) ) and (2 to 12 H.P. ) (Chilton)
Polish Your Furniture with Panty Hose–Joey Green (Hyperion)
Tool Making for Woodworkers–Ray Larsen (Cambium)
How to Make Felt: Create Hats, Bags, Rugs, Masks, and Much More–Anne Belgrave (Search Press)
Books on Animals
Outwitting Squirrels–Bill Adler, Jr. (Chicago Review Press)
Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats–Richard H. Pitcairn, D.V. M., Ph.D., and Susan Hubble Pitcairn (Rodale)
Food & Entertainment Books
How to Repair Food–Mariana & John Bear (Ten Speed Press)
*You can order The Rammed Earth House by David Easton (#MWB234) and Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman (#MEB140) through MOTHER’S bookshelf.