Peter Ogura didn’t want to be an ambulance chaser.
One day, he drove by a florist having a going out of business sale, not knowing that it would change his life for the next 19 years. On a whim, he stopped and asked what was going to happen to the space. He walked out of the store with the landlord’s phone number, and after a few interviews, he became the new tenant of the small space on Hilyard Street.
A graduate of the University of San Francisco School of Law, Ogura decided against a law career to follow a “pipe dream” of opening his own bookstore.
“Perhaps it was the kind of law I seemed destined for. It was in popular parlances called ambulance chasing, plaintiffs’ personal injury litigation. It was very ridiculous and adversarial all the time. To be immersed in that adversarial business presents a skewed vision of the world,” Ogura says.
After living in San Francisco for 12 years, Ogura felt claustrophobic in the populated waterfront city. He could stand on his balcony and all he saw was “thousands upon thousands of houses and buildings”, so he escaped his cramped urban confines and headed 530 miles north to Eugene, Ore.
Ogura’s dream of owning his own bookstore came true when he started Black Sun Books, which carries new, used, and out of print books in Eugene’s Amazon neighborhood.
Ogura doesn’t carry a lot of bestsellers. He completely ignores romances and he shuns personal finance, business, or computer books. He believes “the attempt to be somewhat serious” in what the store carries differentiates Black Sun from its competitors.
“Although anyone who is crazy enough to have a bookstore in 900 square feet is doing something different,” Ogura says with a smile.
Black Sun is exploding at the seams with books. Shelves filled with books take over almost every square inch of space in the small shop. Books are piled on the floors, on the counters, and cover the walls. The sheer amount of books is overwhelming.
The amount of books in the store doesn’t faze Ogura. “Compared to Powell’s of course, this is just a microfraction of what you could have,” he adds nonchalantly.
Ogura amasses his books from a mixture of publishers, distributors, and customers that walk through the door to sell their own books. He makes the decisions about what particular books to acquire and is personally passionate about the history, philosophy, and art genres. He also enjoys cookbooks and narratives about food.
When asked about his favorite book, Ogura quickly replies, “Oh that’s too difficult to answer. For it would be slighting all the other books to name but one.”
The man with the passion for books also faces the struggles of the changing media market and consumers’ gravitation towards electronic reading devices.
“This small business, it’s not like a grocery store,” he says. “If you own a grocery store, and a person comes to your store, they’re going to buy one item, if not more, otherwise they don’t come, whereas in a bookstore you get a lot of people who browse and for one reason or another, they’re not buying anything. It’s a more difficult business now because people tend to buy online.”
The main struggle is the bottom line, and trying to derive some kind of profit from the countless hours that Ogura devotes to his store and his dream. Although it’s not always easy, Ogura enjoys being his own boss. When people call and ask to speak with the owner, he happily answers that he is the owner, CEO, and janitor. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.