Browseabout Books has been a mainstay in Rehoboth Beach for the past 45 years, and new owner Susan Kehoe wants to keep it that way.
“The plan is to keep doing what’s always been done,” said Kehoe, during an interview Nov. 25. The news of the sale was posted on the bookstore’s Facebook page Nov. 19. “This just felt like the right time to do it. Honestly, I’ve been here so long that it doesn’t really feel that much different.”
Steve and Barbara Crane founded Browseabout Books in 1975. Kehoe has been working at Browseabout for the past 16 years; for the past five, she’s been running the day-to-day operations. Kehoe said the transition to ownership has been in the works for years. From the beginning, she said, the Cranes have been grooming her to take over because the couple’s children weren’t interested.
Kehoe, who has an English degree from Virginia Tech, has been in the book industry her entire professional career. She met the Cranes roughly two decades ago while working as a sales representative for a book publisher. Steve was one of the buyers, and they hit it off immediately, she said.
“Steve and Barbara have always been great,” said Kehoe. “I am so thankful for the opportunities that Steve and Barbara have given me. They have both been my mentors for 16 years, and I hope to continue to make them proud of the business they spent 45 years nurturing. This is more than just a bookstore or a business to me; I am carrying on their legacy, and that's truly an honor.”
Even if there weren’t a worldwide pandemic taking place, owning a brick-and-mortar bookstore is going to be a challenge in today’s economic environment. Kehoe said she and her husband Matt, a river boat pilot, did their research before buying the business.
“We’d be idiots if there wasn’t some hesitation,” said Kehoe.
Looking forward, Kehoe said the plan is to get her staff and customers through the pandemic. It’s impossible to think about changes right now, no matter how small, she said.
“There’s a wonderful, dedicated staff here. We want everybody to be safe and employed,” said Kehoe. “Once we all get on the other side of this thing, then we can start to evaluate what the immediate needs are. Three generations of families have been coming to Browseabout Books. It’s loved in this community and we want to keep it that way.”
Susan was the obvious choice
The transition to Kehoe may have been in the works for years, but in an interview Nov. 30, Steve said he and Barbara, both in their early 70s, had basically decided this was the time to make it official.
“It hasn’t been a fun time recently,” said Steve, referring to working through the pandemic. “It’s been eating away at us. It’s time to just not worry about it anymore.”
Steve said Kehoe was the obvious person to sell the business to.
“We didn’t even offer it to anyone else,” he said. “She was ready, and I wasn’t about to spend the time with someone else.”
Steve described himself and Barbara as the lowest-profile, longtime business owners in Rehoboth Beach. He said Browseabout was a pioneering business in Rehoboth Beach because it was one of the first stores to stay open year-round.
“We never wanted to be famous. We just wanted to have the best bookstore in the world,” said Steve. “We never looked back. We did the best we could. I don’t really regret anything.”
Over the decades, the business has evolved. The current home of Browseabout, 133 Rehoboth Ave., is the store’s sixth downtown location. Steve estimated that when they first opened, there were 200 titles in the store – with one copy of each. If a book got sold, another one was ordered, he said, guessing the store has 25,000 titles today.
“There were no hardbacks. Just some mass-marketed paperbacks that sold for 75 cents or $1,” said Steve. “You’ve got to sell a lot of 75-cent books to make anything.”
Looking back on the 45 years of work, Steve said he is proud of what he and Barbara accomplished.
“I think what we did has been amazing,” he said. “When we started, we had no phone and no heat, but somehow or another, we made it. Our goals from the beginning have been simple – be friendly; be welcoming; entertain people; and be open.”