Richard Howell is not a reader, despite owning nearly 400,000 books.

 

The last book he read was John Grisham’s “The Firm,” when it was first published in 1991.

 

But he’s turned his appreciation of books into a booming, unique business in Searcy. It’s called Books by the Pound, and Howell sells books by weight. Customers can visit his warehouse off Beebe Capps Road near the southern edge of Harding University, fill up a box with books, have it weighed and then pay accordingly.

 

It doesn’t matter if it’s technical manuals, history tomes or classical literature. The cost is based on the heft. Visitors, basically, can buy author Ezra Pound by the pound.

 

“You can buy a box of books here for about what you can get a new book at Barnes and Noble,” Howell, 52, said.

 

This wasn’t Howell’s first business idea. He originally recycled cardboard and paper in Memphis with his father-in-law in Memphis and would often find he dealt with thousands of books.

 

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“People seemed to have a hard time throwing away books,” he said.” They’d rather pass one on to someone else.

 

“I was buying books by the pound to recycle,” he said. “I decided to sell books by the pound.”

 

Howell and partners opened their first book warehouse just east of U.S. 167 in Searcy in May 2020. Books were stored in open boxes, and customers had to dig through them to find their treasures. At first, there was no air conditioning in the building, and large industrial fans were used to provide some semblance of climate control in the sweltering summer.

 

Howell first called the store Gabby Warriors, and profits went to area veterans groups and child service programs in White County.

 

A year later, Howell moved his business to its current location, a huge warehouse in an industrial area of Searcy. The building is divided into a 10,000-square-foot area for customers, where about 150,000 books are on shelves and display cases. There’s also a wall of 20,000 DVDs, games, CDs, vinyl records and collectibles on display.

 

The other half is a 15,000-square-foot section for processing the books Howell obtains.

 

He created a conveyor system that codes books and sorts them into various boxes based on their genre. Twenty-six paddles on the system push books into cartons for history, sports, literature, children’s, mystery fiction, romance and other genres.

 

The building is well-lit, and light bulbs hang from strands across the ceiling, adding to its ambiance. There are couches and chairs, and customers are urged to sit and read books there. There’s also a chess board for games.

 

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“When people first come in, they stop and look around,” Howell said. “It’s overwhelming. For some, it’s like going to book heaven.”

 

He credits his wife, Jamie, for adding the homey touches to the store.

 

There’s even a cat roaming around the warehouse. Edgar Allen Poe is a stray black cat who showed up at the warehouse one day. He lounges on the store’s couches and keeps mice, birds and other varmints away.

 

Part of the draw of Books by the Pound is the experience alone. Customers will generally walk out of the store with something, Howell said, whether it’s books they’ve been seeking for a while or some impromptu finds.

 

Howell doesn’t advertise his store much. He posts things on his Facebook page and relies on word of mouth. One customer posted a note about the bookstore on her TikTok site, and 700,000 people “liked” it.

 

His limited advertising has worked well so far. Last year, he had 24,000 transactions from walk-in customers.

 

A map of the United States hangs on a wall near the store’s entrance. Small push pins are placed in the towns where customers are from. Many pins center on Arkansas, but others are scattered across the country.

 

Howell said he knows, for example, someone from Utah may not travel to Searcy only to shop at Books by the Pound, but if they are there for other reasons, chances are they may stop in.

 

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He’s had some customers who were visiting family in Searcy spend an entire day at the store.

 

“This is one of the hidden gems that makes Searcy so special,” said Searcy Chamber of Commerce Director Tara Cathey. “But it’s not so hidden anymore.”

 

Cathey said she’ll be out of town somewhere on chamber business, and when people hear she’s from Searcy, they’ll ask about the bookstore.

 

The Chamber monitors “hits” on the various businesses it features on its website. Cathey said Books by the Pound consistently gets the most monthly hits from internet visitors.

 

“It’s a cool, unique place to visit,” she said.

 

Howell plans to expand his business. He wants to put one in his hometown of Memphis and hopes to place a Books by the Pound in west Little Rock within a year.

 

“This is the kind of business like that baseball field in [the movie] ‘Field of Dreams,’” Howell said. “Wherever I put it, people will come.”

 

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