Fifteen years ago, Ed Albritton was at a crossroads. He took the leap from a stressful mental health career to opening Ed’s Editions rare and used books in West Columbia. His son thought he was crazy, but Albritton now says it’s the best decision he could have made.
By Taylor Halle
April 13, 2016
Ed Albritton’s job was being a mental health counselor. But his passion was hard-to-find and rare books.
Then, in 2001, the “Ed” behind Ed’s Editions in West Columbia had his own health issues and, having just entered his 50s, took stock of his life.
“It sort of made me think about is this really what I want to do,” he recalls. “Do I really want to keep working in community mental health for the state government, or what would I really like to do if I could do whatever?”
Fifteen years later, Ed’s Editions still sells its 40,000 treasures in the store and online, and most still go for less than $5.
“We’re very particular about the books we bring in, for one. Secondly, we’re also very focused on the customer and customer service,” Albritton says.
Ed’s Editions even has fans from outside the state. Maggie Slimp of Meridian, Mississippi, who drives eight hours to visit her gradparents here, says there aren’t a lot of used bookstores she likes in Meridian. But she’s stopped at Ed’s Editions twice and says it’s worth it because of Albritton.
“He is kind, generous and quite knowledgeable,” she said. “He takes time to chat with the customers about anything from books, to local news, to the weather.”
Albritton is the only member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America and International League of Antiquarian Booksellers who owns a South Carolina bookshop.
Susan Benne, the ABAA’s executive director, emphasizes how important people like Albritton are in keeping rare and antique bookstores alive, especially when he opened in 2001 when many were closing.
“Just the idea they still exist and what Ed does is just fantastic,” Benne said. “It also creates opportunity to come together to find and share information and have discussions.”
Albritton’s 36-year-old son, Eric, who also works in the store, remembered thinking his father, now 66, was crazy to open Ed’s Editions. But after seeing his father’s experience working as a mental health counselor, Eric Albritton said he realizes now why his dad made the decision.
“You really do kind of realize how awesome it is to be your own boss and to try and make something that you’ve created work,” he said.
Columbia Voice sat down with Ed Albritton to explore his 15 years in the rare-book business. This excerpt has been edited for length and clarity.
Ok so let’s start with your background before you opened Ed’s Editions. I understand you were a mental health counselor. Can you tell me a little about that?
I worked in community mental health and corrections mental health for probably almost 20 years, and I left that job to open up the bookstore. The last job I had was in community mental health.
Your son, Eric, told me a little about your hobby for hiking. Could you tell me about that? It sounds like you’ve been to a lot of places.
Yeah, we do a lot of our traveling using a camper, and a lot of our trips are related to a home school because we home-school our grandson, and so we do educational and camping and sports type trips in our spare time.
So what is it exactly that attracted you so much to camping in the first place? Is it a good stress reliever to get away from work?
We enjoy traveling. I think that’s probably the most important thing for us, and we found it to be convenient to do home school because we usually hit the local attractions as well as the historical and education part of it as well. Not a lot of stress in my job, really, so it’s more just enjoyment and the fun of travel that gets us there.
So when did it click in your mind that you decided you wanted to open your own bookstore?
The job I had before was pretty stressful in terms of working in mental health, and particularly in corrections part of that at one time as well. With some health issues that came up I just decided to look at doing something different that was a lot less stressful. And I always enjoyed books, and so it was just kind of natural that I took this opportunity.
After talking to your son Eric, I asked him what he thought when you were first opening up the store and he said he thought you were crazy. So, what do you think about that?
Well he may be right in part, but it just comes from all of my years working in mental health, I suppose. But I thought, you know, it was just the kind of thing that I felt like I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to do that and I didn’t know how, whether it’d be successful or not because I’d never really worked in business or in retail, so it was really a pretty large leap I guess you could say.
Have you had a passion for collecting rare and hard-to-find books since you were a kid, or when did it start and how?
Not so much rare and hard-to-find. I just always have enjoyed books and reading, and I’ve always been somewhat fascinated with the appearance of books and the binding and the manufacture of books and that sort of thing. And … collecting is one of those things that I’ve done over the years – baseball cards, marbles, whatever – and so collecting books just seemed like a natural to me.
So what is your favorite part of having your own business like this?
Well I’m around books a lot and I get to see a lot of different books, which I enjoy. I also have quite a bit of flexibility, and as we talked about a little earlier, it’s not so stressful working in this environment, so it’s kind of fun.
And what would you say is the hardest part of running and owning your own bookstore?
Well the hardest part is definitely the business side of it. You know, keeping the financial records straight, making sure I account for the money properly and just that side of it. That’s just not much fun, having to deal with taxes and accountants and things like that.
How is it having your family members involved with the business as well?
Well, it’s different, but that’s one of the pluses in having a small family business, is that you can stay involved with the family. The family is part of the success and also is helpful when it comes to adjusting to different things that are going on with the business. And it just again, makes sense to take the family approach to this type of business. It’s well suited for that sort of thing. …
How do you go about finding your rare and antique books?
We find them in a variety of ways – estate sales or auctions sometimes. Many of them come back in through our regular customers that may be downsizing or changing the focus of their collection, and so we get a lot of our books from our customers. … There are the usual library sales and even an occasional thrift store that we might visit to just see what happens in there. But that’s pretty much how they come to us. …
So what would you say is the biggest learning experience you’ve had from all of this, from owning your own business, everything?
That’s a pretty good question. I guess I have learned the importance of understanding mathematics, and the supply and demand, and economics, and the business side of it. That’s one of the things, if I had done anything to prepare a little better, I would have maybe taken a course or two, or at least done a bit more reading on that. And I’m learning quite a lot that a book is not just a book, but it’s a work of art in some cases, and it has a lot of importance to people. And so those are some of the lessons I’ve learned at least.