Photo By David Robert

Phil Davis is an instance of a syndrome once nearly unknown that is quickly becoming common—a midlife career change. Once a television advertising salesperson for cable television firms and then for KTVN, Davis bought the Book Gallery in 2003. Book Gallery is a used-books store, which had been made into a beloved Sparks institution by its first owner, Joseph Chiappetto. It is often said that men define themselves by their work, and for Davis, the main surprise in making such a fundamental shift was how easy it was.

You were in television sales. Why did you make the change in careers?

Well, after 15 years I was burned out and wanted to do something fun—more fun, I should say.

Has this turned out that way?

It’s been great. The guy I bought the store from was my first television account, and I always enjoyed coming down here and looking at books and movies.

Has anything not been what you expected?

That’s a good question. Let me think about this. It’s better than I imagined, really. I mean, I look forward to coming to work every day, and it’s better than I ever thought it was going to be. I had an offer last week to come back into advertising, and I said, “You couldn’t pry me out of here.” I’m pretty happy here … I thought it was going to be harder than it was. I wasn’t sure, being on the streets [in sales] for that many years, if I was going to get bored sitting in here, but there’s always something to do in here. There’s always something fun going on.

What was it like learning the business?

I just worked for Joe for two weeks and learned the book business … How to buy books and how to price books and how to look for certain things like book club editions [which are not welcomed by book buyers] and look for values in books as far as condition, books without jackets, first editions. He taught me a lot of that stuff … I had to learn all the different categories of books, something I’d never paid much attention to, but there’s tons of categories … There’s a lot to it, especially if you’re not reading all the categories.

It doesn’t occupy all of your time?

No, I get to sleep in the morning, and I can stay here as long as I want—I close up at 6—meet interesting people.

What would you tell somebody else who was thinking about changing careers?

Well, as long as they’re not planning to open up a used bookstore anywhere near me, I would say, “Find something you like to do and go for it because life is too short to be doing something you don’t like doing.”

Were you doing something you didn’t like doing?

No, not really, but any job after 15 years just becomes routine after a while. And I had a lot of fun, made a lot of money in advertising, but there’s just so far you can go with it, and I’m looking forward to doing this for the next 15 years.

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...