As long as there have been written languages, there have been books. And as long as there have been books, there have been used books.
Over those thousands of years, the importance and influence of books have fluctuated. Now, if the internet and an age of instant gratification has adversely affected reading, then new and used books may be poised to make a comeback. That’s the cyclical concept that Michael Cantor is banking on.
Besides, Salamander Books and Music is just as much a mindset as it is a business.
Cantor is the owner of Salamander Books and Music. The 59-year-old former resident of Baltimore recently moved his used book and used music business from 1224 East Main Street in Annville to 33 East Main Street in downtown Palmyra. The move was designed to allow Salamander Books and Music a greater opportunity to be true to its origins of a traditional, community-oriented used books store.
“I’m used to being in communities,” said Cantor. “When you live in the city, it’s like 100 small towns, and each community has its own feel. I’m looking forward to serving the community of Palmyra. This is the kind of business where you get regulars who hang out.
“I think our country needs it,” added Cantor. “I think all communities need any type of hub where an individual can follow up on a creative passion. A Greek philosopher once said that if you don’t learn with passion, you’re never really going to succeed.”
Salamander Books and Music sells used books, recycled books, if you will. Used books that focus on art, philosophy, mythology, folklore, science fiction, the classics and kids’ books. Publications which may have made top-book lists or won Pulitzer Prizes at one time, or works from well-known authors that might have eluded popular culture.
Salamander Books and Music also deals in vinyl records, CDs and DVDs from various artists, and also sells a limited supply of musical equipment.
The store had its grand opening June 12, as announced on its Facebook Page.
“Here’s my hypothesis,” said Cantor. “Popular culture is always looking for the new fad. What happened was the Kindle hit, and that was the new fad. The Kindle sort of destroyed the used bookstores. But for the younger generation, the Kindle’s not a fad, because they grew up with it. It’s not a novelty, just like the computerisn’t. I think there’s a big ‘coming back’ of that.
“There’s a huge difference between the new book business and the used book business,” continued Cantor. “I can’t compete with Amazon. In new bookstores, you’ll find the most popular works from any given author. But the amazing material isn’t necessarily the popular material. There’s also this treasure-hunt mentality when you come to a used bookstore. The books have also been in other people’s hands.”
There was a time not too long ago when bookstores–both new and used–flourished in Lebanon County, at places like the Lebanon Valley Mall and downtown Lebanon. But now that number has dwindled to a mere handful.
In that way, Salamander Books and Music seeks to fill a void and a need.
“In this business, it’s hard to make money,” said Cantor. “Financially, it is a viable business and the internet does help. In Baltimore, I was able to buy a house, survive and get along just fine, up until the Kindle hit. I did a profitable margin for a long time, and then COVID-19 hit. Another thing I like about the business is the feeling of being a part of a community.
“Financially, you can make it,” continued Cantor. “But there is a cultural aspect of giving back to it. It attracts a wide gamut of people. But I’d never want to sell a product I wasn’t passionate about.”
After operating a used bookstore in Baltimore for many years, Cantor and his wife re-located to Annville for her new job at Lebanon Valley College. He operated Salamander Books and Music on Route 422 in Annville for about ten months, before seeing a need to be part of a downtown business district like community-oriented Palmyra’s.
“I wanted to be in an area with more foot traffic, and this space was more conducive to our needs.” said Cantor. “We’re fairly new to the area. In Baltimore, I was more used to the community, urban, walking-around type of feel. It could’ve been in Lititz or Elizabethtown or downtown Lebanon. I was actually looking in downtown Lebanon, and nothing popped up.
“This seemed pretty ideal,” Cantor continued. “I’ve done this before, had bookstore locations in various locations for 15 years. I’m pretty well-versed in the business. It was just a relocation with the same focus.”
Well-rounded, highly intelligent and well-read, Cantor is a one-time magician/illusionist and people person, who holds a degree in engineering and has made many unique acquaintances through the used book business over the years. Salamander Books and Music is a reflection of who the owner is and what he stands for.
“This business very much represents who I am,” said Cantor. “I’ve always been attracted to the used book business because you always get interesting people coming in. I’ve always been attracted to people who are seekers, people who are passionate about a subject. That’s very stimulating to me. I think a lot of that is considered beyond mainstream.
“These used bookstores typically have been a hub of culture, a meeting grounds,” added Cantor. “I think reading in general, especially in this computer age, is a time-honored media for building character and intelligence. I like the fact that when you do develop that mindset, reading one book or one line in a book can make you go in a different direction.”
A source of inspiration and imagination, books possess the power to transform readers to different places, times and events. They can also spark interest in other fields of pursuit and cause readers to think outside the proverbial box.
“All you have to do is get on a bus and see what’s in people’s hands,” said Cantor. “I feel like the seduction of immediate gratification is something that really needs to be looked at, internationally. I think people are reading less. I don’t know where it’s headed. All I know is that the lowest common denominator is ruling our culture. Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge.
“The more we can provide outlets for people who are passionate about anything is a needed part for our society,” concluded Cantor. “I hope we can become an asset to the community and a resource for people with creative interests, or a place for people who just love to read.”
In that way, used books have never gone out of style.