There’s a new place to shop for books in Plattsburgh, and for the owner of Lake City Books, it’s something he seems like he was born to do.
A lifelong resident of Plattsburgh, Steve McDonald just about grew up in a downtown bookstore. His mother owned the Half-Priced Bookstore on Margaret Street from the mid-1970s to the 1990s. Working there was McDonald’s first job.
“I’ve kind of got bookstores in my blood,” says McDonald. “My mom owned a bookstore; my brother owns a bookstore in Burlington. It’s just kind of in the blood.”
But after he went to college, McDonald entered the business world, working in sales for various companies. He might still be there; if a cancer diagnosis hadn’t forced him from the workforce and into the Fitzpatrick Cancer Center. The prognosis for recovery was bleak, says McDonald, and he credits the team at Fitzpatrick for seeing him through debilitating rounds of chemotherapy, and out on the other side. But it was a recovery that kept him out of work for a couple years, and when he contemplated re-entering corporate America, he looked at the sizable gap in his employment history and knew that he would have trouble competing in the tight job market.
Owning a bookstore had always hovered somewhere in the back of McDonald’s mind, and now seemed like the time. He discussed the idea with his wife Chris, and she was behind the idea. But McDonald was starting from scratch. He didn’t even know how to get on Facebook.
“Without her this never would happen. Without her, and her saying that you can do this, this place would not be here,” McDonald said.
He started small this past summer, collecting used banana boxes from Price Chopper and filling them with garage sale finds on weekends. Then he found his holy grail; a used bookstore in Connecticut that was going out of business. After haggling for a while over price, he was off to Connecticut with Chris and his daughter in the biggest U-Haul truck he had ever driven. When he returned to Plattsburgh, the truck was full, and all he needed was a space.
That fell into place as well, when he found a space at 164 Boynton Avenue. He now works the crowd at the bustling bookstore like a man doing what he was meant to do.
“When you first get that diagnosis, it really opens up your eyes to a lot of things. It really puts into perspective what is important.”
The shelves of the cozy space are packed with used and remaindered books, and he is constantly taking in new titles, along with the numerous banana boxes he still has in his garage waiting for space. Coffee and some pastries round out the motif, and business so far has been brisk.
McDonald doesn’t worry about the nay-sayers who predict the end of the printed book. There’s something about a book, he says, that will keep people coming back, so they have something they can hold in their hands.
There’s something too about a second hand book, that has been given a second chance at doing what it was meant to do. McDonald was given a second chance as well, and he is making the most of it.