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Growing Selection of Travel Books by Catalogue

November 25, 1990|JAMES T. YENCKEL | WASHINGTON POST

Michael Chessler is a mountain climber with a lifelong love of books--not an unlikely combination of interests, really. What is unusual, however, is that he has turned his two hobbies into a growing business. He operates a bookstore, now in its sixth year, that offers one of the most comprehensive selections of travel guides found anywhere to the mountainous regions of the world.

As a mountaineer, he naturally located his shop in the mountains--the foothills of the Rocky Mountains outside Denver--although this was hardly the most accessible of sites to attract walk-in shoppers.

No matter. He produced a substantial catalogue that he advertised in mountaineering magazines, and now he makes most of his guidebook sales through phone and mail orders. Today, he employs a staff of six.

His firm, Chessler Books of Evergreen, Colo., is one of at least 14 travel bookstores and travel-related businesses nationwide that offer travel books through catalogues. Like Chessler, some specialize in limited areas of travel. Others offer a broad range of travel guides and literature. Book Passage of Corte Madera, Calif., which claims to be the largest mail-order operator, lists 50,000 travel titles in its inventory.

The demand for travel guides for almost anywhere in the world has mushroomed in the past decade, and numerous bookstores specializing in travel have opened to fill the demand. For some of the larger stores, catalogue sales became a logical extension of their business.

The catalogues provide a convenient way for travelers to learn about--and buy--the latest books and guides, many of which are not available in ordinary bookstores. Some stores do half or more of their business through catalogue sales.

Chessler's firm is somewhat unusual in that the subject matter of his inventory is so specific. Most catalogue operations sell a wide range of travel books, although several do highlight certain specialties in which they are particularly good. For example:

* Book Passage in Corte Madera is proud of its business-travel shelf. It has a good selection of guides for business travelers to Japan.

* Carousel Press of Albany, Calif., features guides for family travel, including books for children to carry along.

* The Literate Traveller in Beverly Hills sticks mostly with books that provide historic, artistic and cultural insight into a destination.

* The Globe Corner Bookstore in Boston stocks a large collection of New England books, including inn guides.

* Travel Books Unlimited in Bethesda, Md., sells language tapes and related materials in about 80 foreign languages. It also has a large collection of books on Eastern Europe and Africa.

* Forsyth Travel Library in Shawnee Mission, Kan., is a specialist in worldwide rail travel--particularly for the rail network in Europe.

* The Traveller's Bookstore in New York City carries a good selection of novels and nonfiction set in or related to popular destinations.

Maps, travel videos and travel accessories are also available from some of the catalogue firms. All but one take phone orders, and most accept credit-card charges so that the merchandise can be on its way within a day or two--or immediately, if necessary. Several accept orders by fax machine. A small fee for shipping and postage is charged.

Most firms say they will offer book recommendations over the phone to someone who doesn't have a catalogue but is looking for a good guide, say, to Czechoslovakia or Chile.

Unusual as it is, Chessler's firm has yet another distinction. It deals in used books about mountains and mountaineering. Chessler's customers sometimes will buy a book--many are not available in libraries--and sell it back to him after they have read it. He publishes annual catalogues for new and used books.

The following firms publish catalogues of travel guides and other travel literature. Most catalogues are free, but a couple of firms charge a small fee.

* Chessler Books: Owner Michael Chessler considers his selection of mountaineering, exploration and polar books, maps and videos to be "the largest in the United States, and perhaps the world."

He offers about 1,600 current titles and thousands of others that are out of print. Mt. Everest, the world's highest mountain, is the subject of about 200 titles, including "Everest: A Mountaineering History" by Walt Unsworth, a new edition (1990) of the classic history.

He is also a source for hard-to-get maps of the Himalayas, the Andes and the Alps. His customers include experienced mountain climbers as well as amateur trekkers joining escorted tour groups. Many of his books also appeal to armchair travelers, he says.

Chessler Books, P.O. Box 4267, Evergreen, Colo. 80439, (800) 654-8502 and (303) 670-0093.

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