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.