It all began on Milwaukee’s East Side in 1927 when Harry W. Schwartz opened his first bookshop. It was, initially, a rental library called Casanova Booksellers and Importers, and it was opened with his friend, Paul Romaine, in what Harry described as a "tiny corner" of The Downer Beauty Parlor. By 1937, Romaine had moved on, and the shop was a proper bookstore bearing Harry's name—the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop—on Milwaukee's main street, Wisconsin Avenue. That business would pass to his son, A. David Schwartz, in 1972. David, who passed away in 2004, was the father of one of our current owners and husband to the other. So, ours is very literally a family company, but the family isn't just confined to blood and marriage.
"Have you ever heard of a bookshop born in a beauty parlor? There have been bookshops born in restaurants, tearooms, saloons, antique shops, and perhaps in other places but never, I believe, in a beauty parlor. In the month of October 1927, we opened the Casanova Booksop in a tiny corner of The Downer Beauty Parlor, 591 Downer Avenue, adjacent to the barber, who eyed us with suspicion." —Harry W. Schwartz, Fifty Years in My Bookstore
As you can probably deduce from the next photo, and from the photos of us today, barbers still eye us with suspicion.
David hired Jack Covert, our founder, in 1984 to grow his business book section. Jack grew that section of the store into a business of its own. We were still a part of the stores, and grew alongside them. While David was busy expanding the bookshop and opening up new locations to compete in the bricks and mortar world with the likes of Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, Barnes & Noble, and Borders, Jack was developing a mail order, over-the-phone, and online business that shipped books all over the world.
"David took me to the back of the old store at Fifth and Wisconsin. The entire back wall was computer books. The left hand wall was medical books. And there was a gondola of business books. And David said to me, 'This is your store. You will buy and you will sell. And you will make mistakes. And I will never tell you you are wrong. —Jack Covert, from Inc. magazine, 1995
An Inc. profile of him in 1995 told the story:
Covert himself is known in the world of business-book publishing. His championship of obscure works has helped turn such books as The Goal into national bestsellers, and his monthly top-15 list is a frequently cited industry standard. He publishes a 20-page glossy quarterly newsletter touting new picks to an audience of 60,000 book buyers, and the publishers themselves heed his suggestions. "Jack is not simply a bookseller—he's a tracker and a prophet," says Doubleday/Currency editor Harriet Rubin.
We have changed names a few times since then—from Schwartz Business Books to Business Literacy Services, eventually settling on 800-CEO-READ in the late 1990s to emphasize our customer service and call center. And other things have changed, as well... The top-15 list has been replaced by our best-seller list and our Jack Covert Selects review series, and that "glossy quarterly newsletter" became obsolete as Amazon arrived on the scene, but we've added ChangeThis and other online content to the mix. In 2009, five years after David lost his battle with cancer, the bookstores lost their battle with the big box stores and Amazon, and even though we retain our indie bookstore ethos, the physical bookshops we grew up in are gone.
But through it all, our goal has always been the same—to present the best in business literature to the business community, and to help businesses and business people grow and thrive. 800-CEO-READ goes to work every day to spread the best business books and ideas around the country and all over the world in boxes of physical books, and through our consistent and considerable efforts online.
As we do so, we pass a quote on the wall from the late A. David Schwartz that reminds us of our mission in doing so:
"Bookselling was and is … a cultural and political expression, an expression of progressive change, of challenge to oppressive authority, of a search for a community of values which can act as an underpinning of a better world. The true profit in bookselling is the social profit; the bottom line, the measure of the impact of the books on the community. —A. David Schwartz (July 15, 1938 – June 7, 2004)
Things change. Our community has changed over the years from the people in our neighborhood to people anywhere who love business books—and the people who labor to bring them to life. But, thirty years in from the beginning of Jack's involvement, and 87 years in from our first founding in a beauty salon, the profit we seek is still first and foremost that social profit, to not only do business but to improve and benefit business, business people (aren't we all), and the business community.
And not only are we still owned by members of Harry and David’s family, we all consider ourselves an extended family here at 800-CEO-READ.