GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — When you visit The Tattered Book for the first time, the first thing you notice is how big it is.
The space extends back much farther than you would think. On the store's shelves are at least 100,000 books.
The Tattered Book, which deals in used books, is the only bookstore in Grand Island.
Frederic Graves, who owns the store with his mother, Diania, believes that every city needs a bookstore.
A bookstore, Frederic notes, allows people to do something they can't do online: Stumble across a book. They can discover and enjoy a book they weren't even looking for.
The Tattered Book has been in its current location since 2006.
Many of the store's customers are regulars.
"I bet I have 60 that I know by name," Diania said.
Those regulars tell other people about the store. But it's still surprising how many people come in and say, "I never realized you were here," Diania said.
The store's customers come from all walks of life. Some people who speak little English come in for Spanish-language books and later bring in their children to get their own books.
Some homeless people volunteer in the store for an hour to get $10 worth of books to read. "And, yet, I can turn around and have people that come in that are high society," Diania said.
When there's not a pandemic, the store has three regular volunteers, some of whom have built up more than $1,000 worth of credit. One of the volunteers, a retired teacher, lets her grandchildren use her credit to get books for free.
Organization is a hallmark of The Tattered Book.
In the computer, Diania keeps track of more than 70,000 titles - all the works of fiction in the store, excluding children's books. When people buy books, she carefully writes down the title and author of each one so she can update the list.
The books are not just organized by genre. The names of the authors are alphabetized.
When customers ask her about James Patterson, Alex Kava or Jodi Picoult, Diania has a very good idea where to find them. She can direct them to the specific area, and sometimes the exact shelf.
People think that Diania might have time to read at work. But she's so busy keeping track of sales and trades and returning books to the shelves that she has to do her reading at home.
The volunteers spend most of their time reshelving books.
"Putting away books — that's the thing we always need help with," Frederic said.
He and his mother don't like to keep many copies of the same book "so that we have room for lots of selection and variety," he said.
"As you see, our shelves are already full," he said.
It used to be that romance books were the big sellers at The Tattered Book. But they've been surpassed by suspense, thriller and mystery titles.
At least one customer buys a batch of westerns everyweek, returning the ones he took the week before.
The store doesn't accept periodicals or many contemporary political books, which quickly become outdated, Frederic said.
E-books have had an unexpected impact on places like The Tattered Book.
It used to be that the store "could not give away hardback books," Frederic said. "We used to run specials where if you bought the softcover, we would give you the hardback for free."
The owners were worried when electronic books came out. But they've found that the arrival of e-books has actually helped hardcover sales. Some customers read e-books but still read hardcovers "because they want to keep them and collect them," Frederic said.
The Tattered Book opened in the late 1990s at 115 N. Wheeler St.
Diania's late husband, Fredrick, bought the store in 2001. It was his dream to own a bookstore, Diania said.
He died in 2007 at age 59. That's when Diania and Frederic took over the store. Diania, a Grand Island native, likes working at The Tattered Book.
"I'm a people person," she said.
When she was in high school, it was her dream to become a librarian. Working at the bookstore allows her to be around books all day without getting a master's degree in library science.
Some customers are surprised that the price of books is higher than they would find at a yard sale. But patrons should realize that, in essence, they're paying the rent so that the store can stay open, Frederic said.
The owners feel "well supported by the community," Diania said.
Fredric said, "When the pandemic first started, we had a couple of really rough months."
But it helped when customers bought gift certificates to support the store.
Customers who bring in books receive half the price at which the store sells the book.
The store will fix up a volume that has spinal damage, but there is such a thing as being too tattered. If a book is falling apart and the pages are falling out, the store will say no thanks.
Couples have gone on dates at The Tattered Book, and the store has been the scene of three weddings.
Some customers come from far away. A North Dakota couple visit twice a year, bringing two or three boxes of books each time.