Turn away from the noise buzzing around South Street and stroll along a serene block dotted with quaint homes and small businesses. You might notice a large garage, painted with bold red and blue, with one word in yellow across the top of the open door: “BOOKS.”
This garage is a used bookstore called Mostly Books, an establishment that generates a steady following through its social media accounts. Many used book stores in Philly have Facebook pages, but these are usually the basic address and phone number or slightly more advanced dealings, like publicizing events. But Mostly Books is engaging with its Facebook fans in a different, authentically quirky, way.
One post asked, “What time was it about 23 years ago?” over a picture of a man with no shirt, but very puffy pants. The answer? Hammer Time. The prize? A “gold star” in the form of a 15-second video of someone with groovy dance moves.
“Gold stars; that’s like what you get in kindergarten,” said Joe Russakoff, owner of Mostly Books and operator of its Facebook page. “I just put up little videos that I thought were funny. The idea is to give people a chuckle, that’s all.”
From looking at Russakoff, it is easy to see where the social media effort gets its eccentric nature. His face carries two frames: one a Larry David-esque pair of spectacles, the other his fly-away grey hair. He is dressed to run his book warehouse in a thick, green corduroy shirt buttoned over a black sweater. He laughs nervously as he talks about store expansion, both physically and online.
On a blustery day in February, Mostly Books is mostly cold. Only the most devout book browsers and brave-of-heart will find their reward in the last room of the cavernous and maze-like shop, behind a door marked “Heat!”
This drafty bookshop on Bainbridge Street, and its sister store tucked away on 10th Street between Locust and Spruce streets, is familiar territory for Russakoff. He said that while growing up, his family owned a used bookstore in Northeast Philadelphia, just as the area was getting more developed.
“My family’s always been in this business.” Russakoff said. “This is kind of like a comfort zone.”
The veteran seller of pre-loved books is no stranger to the business, but he did have to learn a whole new world to move the store into the 21st century.
“I have no technological aptitude,” the store owner said, adding that he has a personal Facebook page against his will; he only needs it to administer the store page.
The store profile began as way to attract people to a poetry series a few years ago, but it was mostly dormant until change washed in on the tide of gentrification. Russakoff said that in Spring 2012, the stretch of block where Mostly Books operates was fenced off for a renovation to turn a fabric warehouse into a restaurant. The construction killed business at the book store, with innocent passers-by taking alternative routes instead of walking through the dusty construction zone to the door of the recently-expanded store front, he said.
Russakoff said the only way he could think of to make his store visible again was to engage his audience online with Facebook. He fired up the page with scans of first pages of famous novels and asked fans to identify them. Right answers were awarded with the coveted gold star, which are usually blink-and-you’ll-miss-it clips from movies as varied as “American Psycho,” “Billy Madison” and Disney’s “Robin Hood.”
The multiple daily posts are just as varied as the gold stars: celebrity noses, famous quotes, funny hats; nothing is off-limits for this peculiar page.
“What I try to do…with the Facebook page is like what people will browse in the store,” Russakoff said. “They pick up a record or look at a poem. The whole idea is to come up with something someone will want to respond to.”[blockquote who=”Joe Russakoff” what=”Mostly Books owner”]The whole idea is to come up with something someone will want to respond to.[/blockquote]
Russakoff noted, though, that there is no set formula for what works, but pictures paired with trivia questions are doing fairly well. He also said he has no idea how Facebook is affecting his sales.
“I was just looking for things to get people to interact,” he said.
If you want to interact with Mostly Books’ daily picture puzzles, “like” its page. Be careful in your postings though. Write a completely wrong answer and your video may be the dreaded “You are an Old Man and a Fool!” instead of the desired “Brilliant!”
Mostly Books is located at 529 Bainbridge St. and 259 S. 10th St. You can find it virtually at www.facebook.com/mostlybooksphilly or on Twitter: @mostlybooks.
Rachel McDevitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.