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Dundee Book Company: From Book Cart to Brick-and-Mortar


By Zoe PerzoNicole and Ted Wheeler stand in front of a row of bookshelves.

When Ted and Nicole Wheeler opened Dundee Book Company in Omaha, Nebraska in 2017, it started out as a book cart. Not only has the company since transitioned to a fully stocked brick-and-mortar, the couple also maintains traditional full-time jobs and runs the store on the weekends. I talked to the Wheelers to learn more about the shop’s evolution, the challenges they’ve faced along the way, and how they handle such busy lives. 

“We dreamed of opening a traditional brick-and-mortar, but weren’t ready to take on the risk or the debt to fully stock a large store,” Nicole Wheeler explained. "We asked ourselves, ‘What’s the smallest thing a bookstore could be?’”

A book cart was their answer. But not just any cart. 

“We had the cart custom made by some friends in Des Moines who made furniture out of rescued barnwood. Its measurements fit our trunk exactly and it comes apart to slide right into the trunk,” she said.

They partnered with businesses in their area, built up their social media presence, attended events, and slowly built a customer base. The Wheelers learned a lot in those early days, often through trial and error, but overall things were going well. 

As you might expect, 2020 brought Dundee Book Company to a grinding halt. The pandemic canceled all of their events, and they refrained from turning to online sales, concerned about taking business from other local companies that needed the support more. Ted and Nicole took a step back from bookselling. They weren’t sure they would return. 

The fully assembled book cart.

But when Nebraska started lifting COVID restrictions, the couple started looking into a brick-and-mortar location. They wanted to “interact with people, but also control COVID protections" and a space of their own seemed like the best option.

Nicole admitted that finding a space was initially difficult. On top of the constant uncertainty of the pandemic, they were looking for a specific area, budget, and aesthetic. Ultimately they found the perfect space. 

They settled into their new location in Dundee — a neighborhood in Omaha — with a giant backyard that was perfect for hosting events. 

They were met with new challenges once they moved into the shop.

“Maybe this should have been obvious,” said Ted, “ but the challenge of pursuing a passion project and also meeting the demands of a retail business was sometimes tough. When we were mobile, we could schedule a couple weekends off each month — or even a whole month if we needed the time. Traditional retail is just so much more demanding.” 

But together, they navigated the challenges and responsibilities of managing the store, staff, and stock. When I asked how they divided responsibilities, they each focused on the other’s strengths. 

“Ted does all of the book buying and stock management. The content is really his area of expertise.” 

“Nicole is great at people management and business innovation.”

Ted also shared the piece of advice that they’ve carried with them this whole time: A brick house surrounded by trees. A stairway leads up to a porch with a Dundee Book Company sign.

“The best advice we received when we got started — from some married friends who ran a bar together for twenty years — was that neither of us is the other’s boss. We took that to heart.” he said. 

On top of the bookstore, Ted and Nicole both hold traditional full time jobs. They’ve learned to delicately balance their jobs, bookshop, and home life. 

For them, that means manning the shop only Friday–Sunday. Ted explained they had experimented with weekday hours several times, but that the shop is best situated for weekend foot traffic. 

“A weekender shop seems to be the sweet spot, at least for now. Like so many fellow owners of tiny shops, we understand that this probably isn’t really a sustainable lifestyle over the long-term,” he said. “We both love our full-time jobs, and the bookshop feeds us in other ways.”

Did I mention that Ted is also an author? Though he has published several titles, his latest — The War Begins in Paris — is the first one he’s written entirely after becoming a bookseller. He revealed how his experience as a bookseller has affected the way he thinks about the people who will read his books.

“I remember — in grad school — talking about “audience”... always in vague terms,” He told me. “But being in book clubs, chatting with folks at the counter, taking special orders, all that helps provide a human face to who is actually reading the kinds of books that I write.

“It’s so exciting to visit bookshops around the country as an author and being able to see how shops operate from that perspective as well. It helps keep our operation fresh and reminds me that our community is truly nationwide. I love seeing all that passion for books!”

In the time between our interview and this article's publication, Dundee Book Company got some unfortunate news. On May 1, 2024, Dundee Book Company announced that they would be losing their current space. A new owner had acquired the building, and plans to open their own business in it. So I reached back out to the Wheelers to see what their future plans were.

"It has been a whirlwind the last few weeks as we start to wind down," Ted told me. "We will still take special orders until the end of the year, with delivery options for those in our part of town. And we're exploring ways to stay involved in the local literary community, whether that's a reading series or something else. The loss of a physical bookstore will be a huge loss for our neighborhood, no doubt. In the meantime, with two teenagers at home, we're looking forward to having a bit more time to be present in our own private lives while we let the next path forward reveal itself."

If you find yourself in Dundee, you can visit Ted and Nicole Wheeler at Dundee Book Company up through the end of May. After that, you can find them at local events, or visit their online store!