2131 N. Weber St.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday
Number of employees: two full-time, two part-time
Most bookstores are floundering, but most bookstores aren’t like Clausen Books.
Instead of focusing on mass-market paperbacks and the latest New York Times bestsellers, owner Doug Clausen has built his father’s book inventory into a one-of-a-kind store for bibliophiles.
“People who love books, they’re passionate about it,” Clausen says. “And when they find what they’ve been looking for, then they just have to have it.”
Clausen specializes in books that people are looking for — and they might not even know it. If you want a signed copy of Walt Whitman’s last book, signed months before the poet’s death, Clausen has one. He also has a signed copy of Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, and Oliver Wendell Holmes’ The Last Leaf about the Boston Tea Party. That book, by the way, comes with a letter from Moby Dick author Herman Melville, in answer to a researcher’s question for more information about the event.
“Melville and Holmes and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were all very good friends,” Clausen said. “They’d write letters to each other, talk about writing. The thing about Melville is, that he wasn’t a well-known author until after his death. He had many doubts about his writing ability.”
Clausen inherited his love of books and history from his father, Henry Clausen, who opened the first Clausen Books in Colorado Springs. He joined the Air Force and spent years helping his parents find unusual books during his travels overseas. After his mother’s death, he put the books into storage until he came back to the Springs. Starting in 1998, he sold books online, and opened at 2131 N. Weber St. in 2000.
With all that experience, Clausen says selling books has become both easier — and harder.
“It’s easier because I can put a book online today, and within 24 hours sell it to someone in the UK,” he said. “It’s harder, because books have become so cheap online. There are books I used to buy that now sell for $1 or $2 online. I can’t buy those anymore — you can’t compete with Amazon.”
So Clausen doesn’t try.
People who read the latest bestseller on their Kindle aren’t his typical customer. After all, they probably aren’t interested in the first American copy of George Washington’s last will and testament, on sale at Clausen’s for $75,000. Or in Washington’s resignation letter from the Continental Army in 1873, published in all the states. Clausen has the copy published in New Hampshire, and is selling it for $150,000, currently the most expensive item in the store.
“These items, these are rarer than hen’s teeth,” he says. “And that’s why they’re expensive.”
Not every book in Clausen’s inventory is worth thousands. His shelves are filled with Rocky Mountain history books, pamphlets about Colorado Springs, books about medical history, early technology. He even has some mass-market paperbacks, such as copies of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which sell for only a few dollars.
But he acknowledges that fans of Shelley and other classics can find the same books online, so he focuses on rare and collectible editions. That means that he turns down many people seeking to sell their own used books.
“If you can get them on the Internet for just a few dollars, then I can’t sell them here,” he said. “It’s not worth it.”
Clausen is an experienced book appraiser as well. He says he researches an item thoroughly over the Internet, tracing ownership and authenticity before he prices a book. Once he finds out how much a book sells for online, he typically prices his just a few hundred dollars lower.
For instance, he has a signed, first-edition A.A. Milne — one of the first books about Winnie the Pooh. He found it online for $6,500, so he’s selling his copy for $6,200.
“That way, it’s priced to sell,” he said.
But Clausen isn’t just a salesman. His love of books and their authors is evident — as is his love of history. And he can talk about the history of Colorado Springs, about specific authors’ lives.
After decades in the book industry, Clausen isn’t too worried about Amazon.com or other electronic booksellers.
His books, after all, are for collectors — people who love to hold books in their hands, love to flip pages and love to own rare works.
“That’s not going away,” he said. “If anything, it’s getting stronger, as more people move toward electronic books, there are people who are going to be searching for rare, collectible books. And that’s where my niche is.”
But that doesn’t mean that technology is bad, he said. Clausen admits even he owns a Kindle.
“You know what I use it for?” he asks. “I use it to play word games. It’s great for that.
“But when it comes to reading, I like to hold books in my hand. There’s just something about that.”