About a year ago, a visitor from Tennessee chanced to stop at a Clintonville institution, Karen Wickliff Books.
Surprised, as people sometimes are, to discover that the person running the store is the one for whom it is named, the tourist asked Karen Wickliff how she had managed to remain in business when so many shops selling used tomes had gone the way of all dodos in the business world.
"I didn't know whether to answer I'm the biggest fool of them all or if I'm obsessive or if I'd just figured out how to do it," said Wickliff, 75.
Now in her 45th year of offering works from Proust to "Peanuts," on subjects ranging from the metaphysical to the medicinal and all points in between, Wickliff is not prepared to follow so many of her fellow booksellers in bidding the business goodbye, she said.
"At least for a while," she said coyly.
Some devoted patrons of the shop at 3527 N. High St. in the Columbus neighborhood hope that's a long while.
"Probably just because of all the stacks and stacks of books, it makes it feel very permanent, which is great," said Grace Satow, who lives in Columbus' University District and has visited the store two or three times a year for the past five years. "I absolutely love Karen Wickliff (Books). It's so much fun to walk around and see all the books. She's always there herself. She's really helpful, and she remembers all the books."
"I like what an eclectic collection she has," said Geoff D. Mize of Westerville. "There's a wide variety of books she has, fiction and nonfiction, recent books, as well as books that are hard to find. It's really an adventure. You can really get lost in there."
"I go in not knowing what I want and then I just find it," said Janet Harriett, who lives in Columbus near Polaris. "I've discovered some really great writers there just browsing through the stacks."
"I'm a fan of used-book stores," said Richard Hentsch of Clintonville as he was selecting a work on astrology July 11. "It's a happy place for me, and let's face it, they're a dying breed."
Wickliff wandered into the used-book business almost by accident.
She and her husband were living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 45 years ago and she was staying at home with their children.
"I wanted something to do," she said. "I tried doing crafts, but that took too long."
The local library was selling some of its older books for 25 cents each, and Wickliff picked up several, later reselling them at a flea market.
The die was cast.
Wickliff and her husband moved to Columbus in 1973. At first, she had a book booth in Eastland Mall.
"I sold enough to pay the way," she said.
After five or six years, she moved into a former bookstore in Reynoldsburg, remaining there three years before seeking more foot traffic with a shop near the intersection of Hudson and North High streets in Columbus.
After 22 years at that site, Karen Wickliff Books moved to its present location, where it's been for 14 years.
Based on the footage of the shelves and not by actual count, Wickliff said, her store has 30,000 to 40,000 books, not including the ones in piles all over the place.
"People think it's a million," she said.
It's not, and the real figure will soon start to dwindle as Wickliff gets rid of what's not selling.
"If it's something I'm sick of looking at, its time is up," she said. "I'm getting more and more selective about what I take in.
"People bring in the awfulest trash and they say, 'I can't bear to throw it away.' Well, I can."