Established in 1961 by John T. Zubal, Zubal Books has been providing libraries, researchers, collectors, and avid readers hard-to-find and important books in all fields.
The company’s origin can be traced to the early 1950s when John, still in grade school, began collecting the writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Fascinated by Tarzan and other Burroughs stories that were almost all out-of-print, John scoured Cleveland area Salvation Army and Goodwill stores for books to read and collect. From time to time he acquired duplicates that he traded with like-minded fans for other desirable books. And from swapping books it was only a short jump to selling excess copies each for a couple of dollars. Such early dealings enabled him to buy yet more titles from the numerous second-hand booksellers in Cleveland.
John’s first advertisement appeared in the fall of 1953 in “Other Worlds,” a digest-size science fiction magazine. Published by L. Ron Hubbard on a monthly basis, the magazine devoted a few pages of each issue to free ads in which readers either listed “wants” or “offers” of books and magazines. Thus began a cottage industry.
Within a year or two, John discovered “Antiquarian Bookman," founded and edited by Sol Malkin, a weekly publication that listed thousands of books wanted and books for sale. John regularly perused copies of AB at the Cleveland Public Library and quickly learned that there were dozens of books on the shelves at the Salvation Army and various secondhand stores that he could buy for less than a buck and offer to others for a quick profit. Throughout his high school years, John spent most of his spare time book hunting, learning about genres other than science fiction and fantasy, and filling his bedroom with what would become his stock-in-trade.
In the summer of 1958 John worked for the St. Vincent De Paul Society secondhand collections department. He made calls to Cleveland-area homes that donated furniture, clothing, household goods and, of course, books. The boss at the Society thought very little of books and let John take whichever ones he wanted. While this was a good way to make a little extra spending money and pay for additions to his collection, John had no dreams of being a book dealer.
After attending the World Science Fiction Convention in New York City in 1956, John decided he’d have to find a way to continue his education, now on the college level, in Gotham. He was accepted at Fordham University and did the “four year stretch," majoring in philosophy and history. It was there that he met his wife-to-be, Marilyn Capozzoli, a Bronx girl working at a Manhattan bank. In June of 1961, just three days after graduating from Fordham, John and Marilyn were married. Returning to Cleveland, John pursued graduate studies, intending to become a university professor, all the while supplementing his income buying and selling books and magazines. When Marilyn had to quit her job at a local office – the stork would deliver their first of four children in September ‘62 – John composed his first catalogue and sold his Edgar Rice Burroughs collection, earning a quick $8K and enabling the young family to live comfortably.
While doing post-graduate research in libraries John became aware of scholarly periodicals and the demand for them from the few dozen back-issues companies in the United States, Europe and Japan. By this time, he had developed a close relationship with the local Volunteers of America whose warehouse he visited daily. That organization and several paper recycling companies became sources for periodicals that John would sell to the big dealers of the day, Kraus, Johnson, Canner, Abrahams, and others all since consigned to the annals of business history.
John and Marilyn used their suburban home as a warehouse and order processing facility. Stacks of scientific journals were sorted on the living room floor and inventoried on custom-made index cards. Sales catalogues were produced using an offset printing press in their basement. The company, then named The Charterhouse of Parma because of its location in Parma, Ohio, sent its periodical and book catalogues around the world to university libraries, other dealers and private collectors. In 1965 the collection reached critical mass and John, although employed full-time as a history professor, seized the moment and bought his first warehouse, a 4,000 square foot facility on Cleveland’s west side. He was on his way to becoming a giant in the antiquarian and scholarly book world.
In 1969 John visited a Canadian university that was looking to supply its School of Library Science with thousands of older books for students to describe and repair. John and Marilyn sold their entire book collection of 20,000 volumes along with a sizable part of their periodicals stock. That transaction enabled them to buy another warehouse, this one 18,000 square feet. By the summer of 1973 it was too small for the growing stock of books and periodicals and they purchased their main facility whose address is well known throughout the world of book collectors, librarians and dealers: 2969 West 25th Street, Cleveland. To that location of 36,000 square feet, they constructed an annex of 28,000 square feet in 1978 and a year later acquired the adjacent property giving Zubal a total of nearly 80,000 square feet of inventory space.
In August 1994 the Zubal Family assumed ownership of the “Twinkie Factory,” a Hostess Bakery facility that takes up nearly an entire city block adjacent to the main building. In the 1930s the “Bakery," as it is now known, was the birthplace of the Twinkie. Pipes still hold the sugary liquid that was once whipped into the cream filling of that famous snack cake.
By this time, John and Marilyn were the proud parents of four children: Vicky, Michael, Jean, and Tom. Each grew up and helped with building shelves, cataloging books, sorting periodicals, packing orders, and all the other details that come with operating a full-time commercial endeavor.
The 1970s and 1980s were years of rapid development and the Zubals, always on the cutting edge of technology, promoted their inventory with monthly catalogues that offered an average of 2200 out-of-print and antiquarian books and back-date periodicals. Until the early 1980s, they did their own typesetting and offset printing at the main warehouse. When the number of catalogs produced increased to as many as 30,000, they outsourced the actual printing production and distribution.
In 1980, the Zubals diversified and embarked on a decade of publishing. After issuing nearly 75 original and reprint editions, they decided it was far more interesting to sell one copy each of 100,000 books than 5,000 copies of a single book.
As the Zubal children began to reach young adulthood, three of them entered the business on a full-time basis. Michael concentrated on organizing the 50,000 volume stock of literature, literary criticism, biography and related subjects.
Jean came on board a few years later, managing the business side of the operation: Accounting, personnel, and customer service.
Tom’s full time employment dates to 1989 when, along with Marilyn, he began managing the periodicals department. As secondhand book sales increased Tom handled books in the hard sciences, technology and other scholarly disciplines.
Vicky, the oldest of the second Zubal generation, worked after college and graduate school on a range of marketing projects and continues to be a consultant to the firm.
Zubal Books computerized in 1980 with a TRS-80 machine, replacing the old Addressograph and the 15,000 inventory cards that managed the stock of back-date periodicals. Within a couple of years John learned that Apple Corporation was fast eclipsing Radio Shack with efficiently operating hardware and software. Soon Zubal Books had nine Macs in the office, controlling not only periodicals inventory but replacing old typesetting equipment, producing copy for new books (as Zubal was still a publisher) and composing monthly catalogues.
In the early 1990s, the Internet was beginning to take shape and John, who was always interested in getting technology to work for him, took his company online by posting inventory to bookselling websites, the earliest being INTERLOC, the linear ancestor of what is now ALIBRIS. The transformation to online book sales was slow at first, as the internet was new and uncharted territory for such transactions. When book sales increased from 25, then 100, then 200 books per day, the entire Zubal family embraced the change.
From 1973 to 1998 Zubal Books inventory was open to the public six days a week. Customers entering the West 25th Street headquarters were directed to subject areas and browsed to their heart’s content. The stock was organized in approximately seventy-five subject areas, literally from Accounting to Zoology.
With the rapid growth of online bookselling and the development of an efficient and unique database inventory system Zubal Books segregated its online stock from areas open to the public. Since the new system was installed in 2001, no books have been “lost in stock” and most orders are processed within a few hours. Although the system prevents one from physically browsing Zubal's stock, all books can easily be found at www.zubalbooks.com. It is for this reason that only a very small part of the stock is open to the public. Today approximately 5,000 books in art, history, military, health and a few other subjects are available to walk-in customers. The books in that open stock have one thing in common: They are each $5.00, regardless of their in-print or internet prices!
While much has changed in the business over the years, a few things have remained the same. Zubal Books continues to seek out fine collections of books to add to its inventory by purchasing the libraries of professors and researchers or buying the stock of other bookstores or corporate and technical libraries. The company also strives to provide its customers the finest, friendliest and most professional service in the book world. With decades of bibliographic expertise on hand, booklovers are guaranteed that their purchases will be as described and delivered in a timely manner.
After more than fifty years John and Marilyn still work in the office every day, pricing books, chatting with customers and managing the staff while daughter Jean Marie Vovos takes care of human resources, public relations and finances. Sons Michael and Tom frequently travel the country looking for the next great collection of books. Whether they’re spending time with Nobel laureates, acquiring technical libraries, or manning the booth at library conferences, Tom and Michael are always positively representing the amazing family business that is Zubal Books.
If there is something that you collect or perhaps you’re looking for a special gift for a loved one, feel free to call or email. While we do have over 150,000 books, pamphlets and documents listed at www.zubalbooks.com at any given time, we also have another 750,000 items that have yet to be catalogued. Some of our favorite subjects include: physics, mathematics, history, art, philosophy, first editions, signed books, chemistry, engineering, occult, science fiction, collectible bindings (Easton Press, Franklin Press, etc.), anthropology, and theology.