In today’s world, the concept of reusing, recycling, and upcycling items has tremendous appeal when you consider the good that it can do for your community and the environment. McKay Used Books in Manassas takes it a step further.
"We believe books, toys, movies, and music can provide someone new as much joy as the original owner,” says Carolanne Petrusiak, business manager at McKay. “We believe in what we do here. The entire concept is that these things are still perfectly good.”
McKay Used Books was founded in 1983 by Fran Anderson, Carolanne’s mother, in Centreville. They started with books, and over the years, expanded to include movies, CDs, comics, and video games. They experienced several shifts in user preferences, weathering the shift from VHS to DVD to BluRay, the comeback of LPs—and even Beanie Babies.
After expanding to the Manassas location in 1998, they found it to be an ideal location for their customer base and closed the original Centreville location in 2004. The store will celebrate 25 years in Manassas next year.
What makes McKay unique as a business is that 99 percent of their inventory comes from their customers. They receive thousands of items each month, and there is something different on the shelves each day.
The process to trade in merchandise is straightforward, with details posted on the walls of their store and available on their website. With friendly greeters at the front desk, most customers can have their trades processed within 20 to 45 minutes.
Many of McKay’s 25 to 30 staff members have been with the business for several years. The tight-knit group of staff members are knowledgeable about many subjects, and they really listen to their customers.
“We respond to what our customers are asking for, and we rely on our staff to let us know what they are hearing,” says Petrusiak. “We recently started carrying LEGOs as a response to customer interest.”
Petrusiak first started as a cashier working after school at her mother’s store and then worked as a greeter and a buyer. She pursued a career as a certified public accountant for 10 years. When her mother was ready to retire, Petrusiak returned to the store with her partner, Danielle Parady, who had worked her way up from cashier to manager. Now Petrusiak is the business manager and Parady is the operations manager, making McKay a 100 percent woman-owned and led business.
Like nearly all small businesses, McKay Used Books was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. After being closed completely for about six weeks in 2020, they reopened with a system for people to request a search for books or media, as well as grab bags—which were popular—for purchase and curbside pickup. However, this only matched about one percent of McKay's usual revenues.
“We were able to do some fundraising, and the community really showed a lot of support, by purchasing t-shirts and tote bags to support us through that low time,” says Petrusiak. “It was very important to us that we keep our staff paid, so we were glad to receive the federal relief grant. We had to wait for it though, so our managers skipped a few pay periods themselves, so we didn’t leave our employees in the lurch. Eventually, we were allowed to have 10 customers in at a time, and had a line outside the door of people waiting to come in. Eventually, the limit increased a bit, and became easier to manage.”
With the assistance of the Capital Investment & Innovation Grant and Small Business Microgrant from the Prince William County Department of Economic Development (PWCDED) in 2020, they were able to install plexiglass as well as update the employee breakroom and customer restrooms for easier cleaning.
Earlier this year, they applied for and received the Restore Retail Grant, which allowed them to upgrade their computers and speed up processing times.
Since launching the Restore Retail grant in December, PWCDED has helped 305 businesses with $4.58 million in one-time grants awarded. With more than $1 million in funds remaining, eligible retailers should apply before funds are depleted.
While many businesses were able to take online orders during the pandemic, McKay’s constantly changing inventory does not lend itself to those kinds of sales. However, they did join publication-focused American Booksellers Association as well as Bookshop.org, which provided another revenue stream with small commissions earned on each sale.
“[Bookshop.org] is an excellent alternative to Amazon if someone needs something new or something delivered right to their door,” says Petrusiak.
Like many small businesses, they continue to face economic challenges. “When inflation is high, it shrinks the amount of money people are willing to spend on non-essentials,” said Petrusiak. “Most of our customers would agree that reading is pretty essential! The high price of gas can make it difficult for people to travel to us as frequently.”
McKay is a good option for people looking to save on books and media like DVD box sets, board games, and puzzles. But reading is not just a solitary exercise, either. McKay offers excellent ways to experience quality time without spending a lot of money.
"We were thrilled when we were finally able to open up the Reading Room to begin hosting story time for elementary age children on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30 a.m.,” says Petrusiak. “McKay is a hot spot for dates as well. Discussing favorite books, music, and games is a great way to get to know someone quickly. We’ve had two sets of couples who met at McKay, began dating, and then returned to get engaged. We have had engagements among our employees as well. One couple even asked to get married here!”
With payouts rising, McKay sees a bright future.
“We see signs of new customers finding us, as well as a lot of familiar faces each day," says Petrusiak.
8345 Sudley Road, Manassas, Virginia 20109
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