You may already recognize this friendly face! In this edition of Meet the Bibliomaniac, get to know Steve Leach, the HPB Buy Guy. He’s got some great stories to share from his 32 years in the book biz. Take it away, Steve!
Name: Steve Leach | Job Title: Buy Guy | Store Location: Corporate Offices, Dallas
When did you join the team?
I was hired as a bookseller back in 1985, when the Flagship was located on Mockingbird Lane in Dallas, Texas.
As Buy Guy, what’s an average day like for you?
I’m lucky enough to be able to say there aren’t many “average days.” Most days include answering customers’ and employees’ questions about buying. Some days, I’m helping store people identify, evaluate and promote their collectibles; other days I’m helping train employees, and I occasionally get to talk to customers about books, collectibles and the treasure hunt that is HPB.
How did you become the HPB Buy Guy?
When I started at the Flagship store, I was given the LP section because I had a music background. Boots, now the CEO, was at that time the assistant manager of the store, and her specialty was handling collectibles. I expressed interest and was allowed into that magical world.
What got you interested in collectibles and rare books?
I was a lifelong avid reader with no experience in pricing collectibles; however, I became quickly immersed in it, because, then as now, the Flagship store was full of wonderful, weird and rare stuff to process.
What’s the rarest/coolest thing you’ve come across?
Well, one I always think of is the book Mr. Knife, Miss Fork. Turns out, it was a surrealist classic limited to 50 copies signed by the author, Rene Crevel, and by artist Max Ernst, who created several photograms for the book. Employee John Wilson, who got the book in a buy, was doing his first shift ever as a buyer! But he knew this book, in a stack of low-value stuff, was special, and I got to help evaluate it. It sold to a fellow in New Jersey, where we have no stores—in the pre-Internet era! How, you ask? We’d displayed the book in a glass case in our store in Dallas. A photographer from New York was visiting the store and happened upon it, and deemed it perfect for the centerpiece of a Town & Country magazine story on wedding anniversary gifts. (It would be for the paper anniversary.) Sure enough, the book appeared in Town & Country where a collector saw it, called our store and bought it for $8,000.
Do you have a lot of rare books in your personal collection?
I get tempted, but no. I have many books that could be considered collectibles—at the lower end of the spectrum. And many worth something only to me.
What is your favorite part about working at HPB?
I love being around books and music, of course, but over the years I’ve also had the privilege of working alongside many of the nicest, smartest and coolest people in the world.
When did you start wearing the unique patterned shirts? Do you have a favorite outfit?
My wife used to find them at thrift stores and got me hooked. Now, she’d probably prefer I wore solid-color polo shirts, but I continue to refuse to dress age-appropriately. My favorite outfit is a pair of bright-colored skinny jeans and a matching t-shirt under an annoyingly patterned short-sleeve button-up. And my blue running shoes.
What is your all-time favorite book, movie or album?
Too many to choose! Let’s say any book by Graham Greene, Alice Munro or Kazuo Ishiguro; any movie directed by Fellini, Hitchcock or Ozu; and any album by Thelonious Monk, The Beatles or Nina Simone.
What are you reading right now?
Rotating between Danzy Senna’s New People, a Donald Westlake Dortmunder mystery What’s So Funny? and The Man Who Walked Through Time, about author Colin Fletcher’s hike through the Grand Canyon.
What do you do in your free time?
As often as I can, I play music, see my kids and grandkids, go camping with my wife and run as a volunteer with Back on My Feet. And read.
Anything else to add?
Something I tell people all the time, but it’s true: Even after working at HPB for 32 years, I still see something I want every day. (I don’t always buy it, but it’s fun to look.)