By Brooke Clayton
Jeff Rothermel served 26 years in the U.S. Army before turning one of his passions into a small new store in Iowa City.
Captain’s Book Shoppe, which last weekend celebrated its opening, was a result of a lifelong fascination with books. He originally operated out of his home, selling and reselling books, until the the June 10 opening.
“I’ve been interested in books since high school, and then once I retired, I turned my hobby in to a business,” Rothermel said.
Partly, he buys and sells books like any other used book shop, but he also specializes in appraisals.
“He likes the challenge of looking for older books,” said Annie Gerstbrien, his close friend and realtor. The two worked closely together to find a space in which Rothermel could make his retirement dream a reality.
He was realistic about the challenge of opening a bookstore in an increasingly digital age, let alone in a hub of literary life such as Iowa City.
“There are a lot of other good bookstores in town, and so hopefully, I can do a niche that maybe they’re not doing right now,” he said, “Because when I grew up, there were a lot more bookstores in the area, but with online sales, I mean …”
Last year, The New York Times reported that Amazon had official replaced Book World as the fourth-largest book supplier in the country, and Rothermel remains wary of the influence of online sales. He sold books out of his home using an online network for about a year and a half before opening Captain’s Book Shoppe.
“The Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty real-estate and rental area is quite expensive,” he said. “You have to sell quite a few books just to pay the rent.”
The current space, across from the Java House near the Sycamore Mall, is small and subtle. It is easy to miss if you don’t know what you’re looking for. But old texts and an intimate feel permeate the place with authenticity.
“I think it’s more than just the monetary value,” Rothermel said. “It’s being able to hold and read the books. I think that’s why nonfiction sells so well.”
Chris Gerstbrien, who is married to Annie Gerstbrien, grew up in West Liberty with Rothermal and now teaches at a community college near Okoboji, Iowa. Examining the books on the shelves, he said he’s known Rothermel “since middle school.”
“He has like a million other books at home,” he said.
Rothermel received a master’s degree in history, and his favorite books reflect the influence of that field, as well as his service in the Army. He said he has a love for the period of conflict between the Great Plains Indians and the Army from 1803 to 1970.
However, with such a wide span of interests and experience, and a life of service in the Army that led him all over the world, Iowa has always been home, he said.
“I secured a place that was maybe 10 times larger than the this for the price I’m paying,” Rothermel said. “But I chose to have less space because of the university, because of the Java House, and plus it’s only a few minutes away from my house.”