A teacher-turned-entrepreneur shares the ‘brilliantly simple’ business book that helped her buy a local bookstore and make it profitable

  • After a decade of teaching, Adah Fitzgerald bought a small-town bookstore in Davidson, North Carolina.
  • Her top business book recommendation is Michael Gerber’s “The E-Myth.”
  • It’s a nuts-and-bolts business book that helped her take her small business from break-even to profitable.

Adah Fitzgerald grew up in a book-loving family, so when the opportunity to buy a small-town bookstore presented itself in 2015, she jumped at it.

Main Street Books is located on Main Street in Davidson, North Carolina, where Fitzgerald has lived since her freshman year at Davidson College in 1997.

She had no business experience — she had taught middle and high school biology for a decade — but she managed to turn the shop from break-even to profitable. Insider confirmed these details by reviewing the company’s profit and loss statements.

Fitzgerald receives between 2,000 and 3,000 books per week to stock on store shelves. She is literally surrounded by books, and she reads nearly one every week.

When asked about her favorite business book, she mentioned “The E-Myth,” by small-business consultant Michael E. Gerber.

“There are a million business books out there, and ‘The E-Myth’ is brilliantly simple,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s not rocket science: there’s a specific set of things that have to get done in order to run your business.”

“If you bake pies and love pies and want to have a pie shop, the reality is that you can make pies — or, you can make pies and run your entire business,” she said. While you may initially do almost everything yourself to keep costs low, “at some point other people need to start doing other things in order for the business to go on, especially if you’re going to be the one who makes the pies.” It is critical to accept that structure.”

Fitzgerald immediately invested in staff, and she did so as cheaply as she could.

“At first, we were just hiring teenagers for barely above minimum wage, but they really liked working,” she explained. “And, especially coming from education, I have a lot to offer — I can offer a lot of soft skills beyond that paycheck — and I’m happy to be a really great employer.”

She can now spend more on payroll, and having a well-read staff that can assist customers with book selections distinguishes Main Street Books from other bookstores, including behemoths like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

“What we seriously bring to the table is a staff that reads a huge number of books, has expert, intuitive opinions about books, and is very good at talking about books and matching people with books that are way beyond the algorithm,” she explained. Some of her employees read more than 100 books per year.

Hiring is necessary but not always easy, she says: “You might get burned, but it’s unlikely to break you.” Learn from it because you need people. Many business owners put off hiring someone for far too long.”

That’s a lesson she learned from Gerber’s book, which she calls “the super nerdy, not cool, not flashy, but so solid recommendation of a book.” It’s a business book down to the nuts and bolts.”

However, it will not be available at Main Street Books, where shelf space is limited. Just because she likes the book doesn’t mean her customers will.

“We have 1,400 square feet and very specific taste,” Fitzgerald explained.

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