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January 28, 2010 / schulerbooks

The Grand Rapids Press gets behind the downtown Schuler location

Thanks to Chris Knape of the Grand Rapids Press for an excellent editorial on the Schuler location in downtown Grand Rapids. What a wonderful article about supporting yourlocal bookstore in a time of multi-media pressure on brick and mortar stores (and the traditional book itself).

How important is a downtown bookstore to you? Schuler Books in critical third year of urban store experiment

By Chris Knape | The Grand Rapids Press

January 26, 2010, 8:58AM

This will be a key year for downtown retailing and one of my favorite stores.

Schuler Books Downtown, 40 Fountain St., is one of those places just about everyone said they would love to have downtown. Many cheerleaders said it would be an unquestioned success.

When Schuler co-founders Bill and Cecile Fehsenfeld took over River Bank Books two years ago, they expressed cautious optimism about downtown. But they also were realistic. Their commitment to the space in the old Steketee’s building was for three years. Three years is up in October of this year.

It’s crunch time for the business. It’s also crunch time for people who beat the drum for a quality downtown bookstore but turn around and spend their money online or in the suburbs.

The fact is Schuler is not going to be cheaper than Amazon or Barnes & Noble in many cases. But the fact also is the local company has invested in a store many in the community said they wanted but traditional retail metrics probably would not support.

The store employs friends and neighbors. It provides free WiFi for customers, a warm spot to set a spell, grab a cup, enjoy a good book or magazine or pick up a greeting card. The store also recently got a liquor license and began offering beer and wine.

I bought several books there at list price as Christmas presents, two I knew I wanted and one that was the sort of discovery that makes bookstores special. I might have saved a few bucks by going online, but at what cost?

Bill Fehsenfeld said the cafe is making money, but the bookstore is not — at least not yet.

“The bookstore has been lagging behind the cafe,” he told me a few weeks back. “It has yet to be seen what the long-term outlook for that store may be. This year will be a test for us.”

It also will be a test for those of us who said they wanted and believed in the viability of a downtown bookstore. We have a good one in Schulers.

We need to put our money where our mouths were.

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