Photo Series: Pearl Street Books


Photo taken by Blake McCoy.

Blake McCoy, Photo Journalist

Located in downtown La Crosse, Pearl Street Books has been a part of life in the city for over 20 years.

Owned by Jim Auler and managed by Beth Hartung, Pearl Street Books sells new and gently used books. Hartung said, “95% of our books are gently used, but we do keep a small inventory of new classics or best-sellers.”

“We offer a lot of local books about the region,” said Hartung. “One of the best things about an independent bookstore is that we’re able to offer a place for local authors to place their books and try to sell them.”

Hartung said, “We have a whole bunch of shelves that are dedicated just for local authors. If you go to a box store, they only want the books that are going to move quickly off their shelves and make them money, whereas any author can come in here and we’ll hold their books on consignment so that they have a place to do their marketing as they stop by Pearl Street Books for their book.”

“During non-COVID times, we’ll do book signings, book readings, let [authors] kick off their book here,” said Hartung. “You don’t have to be a big-time author to come to our store to try to sell your book.”

The store places books throughout the building and on high shelves accessible by rolling ladders. “It was a shoe store. All of this shelving was for shoes. It was a shoe store for many many years. When you walk out, you’ll see the shoe symbol on the tile,” said Hartung.

“People come and they love the beauty. So many people say this is one of the most beautiful bookstores they’ve ever been in,” said Hartung.

The used books are collected from estate sales, yard sales, library sales, and customers. “We’ll buy books for cash or do in-store credit, but we’re also out in the communities, and not just Wisconsin and this area. We go into Minnesota; Iowa. We travel to find books as well,” said Hartung.

Hartung said she enjoys her job at Pearl Street Books. “It’s the best job in the world. For the most part, everyone who comes in is coming for a non-stressful experience,” said Hartung.

“It’s a very different type of atmosphere. [Customers are] coming in because they love books, for the most part, and they want to see a lot of books and find a good book to read,” said Hartung.

Hartung said that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the La Crosse community has been supportive. “Some people have just always supported our store, and nothing has changed for them. But then there’s another group of people that are being super intentional about buying local,” said Hartung. She said, “We really appreciate that. And I think people are reading more. They have more time,” said Hartung.

“You might pay a little bit more for a new book here. But that is because we also order books for people too and you’ll usually get it within a week. We’re charging the publisher price, and we need to do that because we need to stay in business,” said Hartung. “That’s supporting the local authors, which is a huge thing. It’s supporting a store like this downtown. The money stays in La Crosse. Your money is powerful.”

“Reading is such a great lifelong habit. It’s a great way to relax. It’s a great way to explore and travel. It’s a great way to keep your mind fresh and learning; to make you laugh, cry. It builds empathy,” said Hartung.

“You can hop into a book and learn about another person’s whole life experience and carry that with you.” Hartung said, “Don’t give up on reading. Some people will tell me that they don’t like to read. I say that there are no people that aren’t readers. You just haven’t found the right books yet.”

Pearl Street Books is currently operating under different hours due to COVID-19. To find out when they are open, check out their Facebook page and Instagram.

Pearl Street Books is also offering one dollar off any used book through the end of March 2021 for anyone who mentions this article when they visit.