As much as Kay Daniel loved her bookstore and hated the idea of closing it, no other ending seemed possible until the day her son intervened two years ago.
Trying to keep up with the latest trends and consumer habits and competing with technology had worn down Daniel. She figured 2013 would be the last year of the Book Rack store she and her husband had owned since 1983.
That is, until their son Matt Daniel showed up at the store one Sunday in March 2013 with a fresh idea.
He told his mom he was interested in taking over the family business.
“I burst out crying,” Kay Daniel recalled. “I didn’t want to close the store. Not just for Oak Harbor, this was my baby.”
Since Jan. 1, 2014, the Book Rack on Midway Boulevard has been owned and operated by Matt Daniel, 40, a 1993 Oak Harbor High School graduate.
He grew up at the store during his teens and was even savvy enough in the collectables trade to pay for a chunk of his college education from the sale of rare comic books.
He decided to put his wisdom, education from Humboldt State University and institutional knowledge from his days at the bookstore to the test.
“I saw the potential of the store,” Matt Daniel said. “I still do.”
Using a fresh set of eyes, Daniel set out transforming the store and installing his own personal touches and ideas, initially with some resistance from his mother, who now works for her son.
He put in a new section of nonfiction books, something the store didn’t previously sell, and carries new releases from the New York Times’ best-seller list, which he frequently updates.
He added a selection of about 100 classics in literature, which he’s found are still in demand, even from his young customers.
“They still sell,” Matt Daniel said.
Daniel also amended the store’s policy on book trades to allow a portion of the credit from used books to go toward the purchase of new ones.
The changes have helped business with sales doubling since he took over.
It didn’t take long for his mother to trust her son’s instincts.
“He knew I couldn’t keep up with it anymore,” she said. “I had it so long, things had gotten stale. He’s given it the respect it’s really needed — the kind of fresh blood that was needed to turn it around.
“I can’t believe what he’s done.”
Books are only about a third of the business equation at his store, Matt Daniel said, with another third devoted to the comic books and another to the sale of miscellaneous items such as card games and toys.
All of it requires Daniel to be tuned into trends and the marketplace.
Daniel carries a wide selection of comic books, including those with variant covers that collectors seek.
He remembers well the comic book craze of the 1990s when collectors came seeking a particular brand that seemed to grow in value almost overnight.
“We ordered thousands of comic books a week,” Daniel said.
“We’d have lines waiting for us to open.”
Sales have normalized since then and the store now orders a few hundred comic books a week.
Daniel said he recently sold in bulk a large number of comic books left over from the 1990s glut to one collector.
“I got tired of looking at them,” he said.
He’d rather look at Funkos, a toy figure that originated in Everett that has exploded in popularity. His store carries many varieties from Iron Man to a Seattle Seahawks player.
The Book Rack is a national chain of individually owned and operated franchises. Oak Harbor’s store, located at 551 NE Midway Blvd., is the only one in the Pacific Northwest.
On May 2, the store will celebrate Free Comic Book Day, which will include an appearance by the Whidbey Island Rollergirls and a person dressed as Spider Man.
Keeping things fresh is as important to Matt Daniel as is getting to know his customers and providing the best service possible.
“Everything we sell you can get somewhere cheaper online,” he said. “We pride ourselves in giving people really good service. We know their names and what they want.”