Schuler Owners On the Downtown Store and the Viability of Bookstores in General
A little while back we posted a great editorial by Chris Knape of the Grand Rapids Press that talked about the Schuler location in downtown Grand Rapids. GR residents loudly voiced their desire for a bookstore downtown, but have yet to fully show their support in store visits and sales.
Well somehow I missed the piece at the beginning of February (which even included a link to our little blog here!) in which Chris printed a response to his initial column, written by Schuler co-owners Bill and Cecile Fehsenfeld.It’s a thoughtful piece about the kind of community a bookstore can create and the importance of book and mortar bookstores in general, versus the battle of price created by online giants and other industry forces.
Better late than never!
February 02, 2010, 2:02PM
Last week’s entry on the future of Schuler Books Downtown brought an active discussion about the need for the store, the downtown shopping environment and the realities of the retail market.
Those of you who didn’t wade through the comments of that entry may have missed this thoughtful response by co-owners Bill and Cecile Fehsenfeld:
Thank you, Chris Knape, for your comments. You clearly understand the issues with the store experiment downtown. And we really appreciate the supportive comments. We truly hope to make a success of our downtown store.
Many people encouraged us to try a store downtown, and we accepted the challenge with cautious optimism. The recent economic downturn has certainly not been helpful. What we need now is more people through the door.
The lure of downtown shopping has been stunted by the parking situation. Chris Knape is right to point out free parking at the Monroe Center lot and open spaces on the weekends. It is also true that the city could make the downtown a lot more parking friendly.
In reference to online sales… you can shop local through our website and our shipping rates are lower than Amazon.
Although this may be the final year of our contract, we are committed to a year of strong effort, right through the holiday season – including new music events, poetry readings, and art exhibits. Our belief is that a bookstore needs to be a community gathering place. Our challenge is to pay the bills.
We truly value your input. We think the comments display a good understanding of the challenges facing our downtown. We have a wonderful community. We want it to remain a “community” that we all belong to. That takes effort in changing times. Thank you all for the engaged interest.
We totally agree with the Local First standpoint (Craig Clark). It is an issue of choice and commitment to our community and its economic vitality. Success of any downtown business builds the confidence of other businesses. The burden of this effort probably rests with those who work and live downtown, and those who come downtown for entertainment, to grow this new vitality – kind of the “use it or lose it” idea.
If we may get up on a soapbox for a moment, there is also the choice being made right now, all over the country, of the long-term viability of brick and mortar bookstores. If price alone drives the life of the book industry, there will no longer be such gathering places, there will no longer be places to browse stacks and touch books before purchasing them. I suspect there will be huge regret if that happens. To have these books there, surrounding you while you sip coffee and run into friends, requires us paying for the books up front, keeping the lights on and hiring intelligent people to assist you.
Making these choices is complex. Let’s all think through what kind of lifestyle we ultimately want.
Bill & Cecile Fehsenfeld
You can read more about what’s going on in the “Schulerverse” at the Grand Rapids-based company’s blog.