Mike Cullen opened Mr. Mike’s Used Books in Cary in 2003, but its beginnings started much earlier.
“My first job when I was 16 was working in a used book store,” he said.
After college, he programmed computers for six years, saving all that he could for his true passion.
“There was plenty of work with Y2K,” he said. “That’s how I made the money to do this.”
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Mr. Mike’s underwent its second expansion this month, moving from its Kildaire Farm Road location to a larger space in Wellington Park shopping center. The new store is 20 percent larger and will hold nearly 6,000 more books, Cullen said.
“I like the location. It’s a shopping center on the way up.” said Cullen, 49.
He said the short distance from the previous site makes the move easy on customers.
“We’re not asking much of them,” he said.
The new store features a larger children’s area, with a table and chairs for young readers. The section is double the size it was when Mr. Mike’s opened its first store. Cullen estimates 60 percent of his customers are women, and many of them have children.
“May through September is our busiest time, and that coincides with the kids being out of school,” he said.
A second Mr. Mike’s location opened in North Raleigh in 2005. Cullen said that store is nearing capacity and will need a larger space soon.
Big box bookstores are not able to compete with Mr. Mike’s in price, Cullen said.
“That’s how we’re hanging in,” he said.
Even digital books are no match. Cullen notes digital copies cost nearly as much as hard copies.
“As long as they do that, we crush them on price,” he said.
Mr. Mike’s offers paperback at approximately half the cover price. Hardbacks are in the $5 range.
“The things that get us by are organization and selection,” Cullen said.
When he was starting out, Cullen bought books from thrift stores and garage sales. Now, all of his stock comes through purchases or trades with customers.
Good quality books of nearly every genre are accepted. Customers may choose to receive payment in cash or store credit.
“We have the luxury of being selective,” Cullen said. “That increases the quality of our stock.”
It also can lead to disappointment.
“Everyone wants to sell one more book from their stack,” he said. “It’s the nature of the business that we can’t buy everything.”
He limits major authors to two or three copies of a single title.
“A lot of books come in with our stickers on them,” Cullen said. “If you take care of them, books are pretty sturdy. Some we’ve bought six to eight times.
“Eventually our customers will age out and digital will come in, but I don’t see that happening for awhile.”