Posted on Sun, May. 23, 2004

Bookstore owner's labor of love is reciprocated

Inquirer Suburban Staff

The fragrance of old books, some of them very old indeed, is unmistakable at The Title Page.

The used-book store is a second home to its owner and founder, Beverley Potter, 70, of Haverford.

"I bring my big orchids into the shop; otherwise, I'd never see them," she said. "I'm here all the time."

The Franklin Avenue store also has a loyal, almost fanatical, customer base from throughout the suburbs.

"Mrs. Potter is brilliant in an unflashy way," said Jason Van Hollander, an illustrator and writer from Merion Station who is a frequent customer. "She must have occult or mesmeric powers: People who visit her store become devoted to her forever. If she weren't real, I'd have to invent her."

The store houses about 30,000 books, stacked on crowded shelves that stretch almost to the ceiling. Signs warn customers to ask for help accessing the upper levels. There are rows of fiction, children's books, plays and cookbooks, and special sections on fox-hunting and angling.

Against one wall are leather-bound antique medical books, including A Treatise on Ruptures, written by Dr. Percivall Pott and printed in 1756.

Students and academics have told her they like the selection of scholarly books. The oldest book in the shop is a treatise in Latin by Greek philosopher Diogenes that was printed in 1490. The original binding has been replaced with wood. It is priced at $3,500.

"It's all condition, condition, condition," said Potter, explaining how she prices her books.

Much of her business is done over the Internet, using She said that she sells books in the shop, but that many of the shop's "more expensive and interesting books" are sold over the Internet. Almost every morning on her way to work, she stops at the post office to ship books, many to overseas customers.

She was initially reluctant to go online.

"I said I would never do it, but it was obvious that it was going to be the future of the business," she said.

Potter got into the book business "when the children were small, so my brain wouldn't go rolling out my ears," she said; her two daughters are now grown.

She formerly worked at The Owl bookstore at Bryn Mawr College and then, 23 years ago, decided to go into business for herself.

The store first was located on Summit Grove Avenue in Bryn Mawr. About five years ago, she moved to the current location - just across from a giant Borders bookstore and coffee shop.

Potter said having Borders so close actually helps her business.

"Bookshops do better in clusters," she said. "It's wonderful having them here."

She said Borders customers often stop by her store if they can't find what they're looking for through the national chain, and vice versa: Her customers will stop by Borders for a cup of coffee.

"We have been told by people who know that this is one of the best general used and antiquarian book stores around," said Charley Ross, a retired lawyer who lives in Devon.

Ross, 70, has volunteered at the store for about five years, and was a customer before that.

"I told her, 'I'll help you unload,' " he recalled. "Well, we're still unloading."

Potter buys her books from customers, as well as from book sales, and said some customers are unaware of the value of their books. One woman, she said, brought in a bag of used books and, almost as an afterthought, showed her "a really nice set of books" with gilded edges (known as "gold tops" in the trade).

"I paid her $300 for those, and she went off happy as a clam," Potter recalled.

Potter also has a warehouse of books in Bridgeport, perhaps another 30,000 to 40,000, and sorts through them on Sundays - the only day The Title Page is closed.

"The last time I went away was two years ago, to a family reunion," she said. "This store and the customers - it's my life."

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