Great Washington Post article about indie bookstores
When people get a look at the Schuler stores, they are usually surprised to hear that such a large store is independent (hence our slogan, Big Store Selection, Independent Attention). But it’s TRUE! And the good news is that there are plenty of other independent bookstores across the nation that are fighting the good fight to keep brick and mortar stores open and successful!
Check out this article by the Washington Post about indie bookstores in their area.
By Neely Tucker, Published: August 17
“From a financial perspective, it was a step down to open a bookstore, but it’s the fulfillment of a lifelong dream,” he says.
These quirky anecdotes are the underpinnings of one of the unlikeliest of business stories: The small, independently owned bookstore is staging a modest rebirth in the midst of a bone-killing economy and the exponential growth of online retailers and e-books.
The American Booksellers Association, the national trade organization for independently owned bookstores, counted a 7 percent growth last year and has gained 100 new members in the past six months. The association now counts 1,830 member stores across the country, up by 400 since 2005, according to Meg Smith, the association’s spokeswoman. The new stores have opened in at least 35 states, from New York to California, an indication that store owners across the nation see an opportunity to find a concrete niche in the e-book world.
“The takeaway is that independent bookselling is still a desirable profession and it’s sustainable,” Smith says.
Smith says the growth appears to be due to a number of factors — the demise of large bookstores; a general social identification with locally owned businesses, an offshoot of the ‘go-local’ movement in restaurants and grocery stores; and a number of store owners who have identified a small but viable market in their communities.
The steady growth is surprising, as the number of independent stores had shrunk by as much as 30 percent in the early part of the decade, hit hard by the growth of big box stores and by online sellers such as Amazon, where the supply was almost limitless. E-readers, such as the Kindle and Nook, had further put a dent in brick-and-mortar businesses. Lastly, the recession of the past two years has cast a shadow over the entire retail market.
But, while Smith says that “no one knows if we’ve hit the bottom,” a small tribe of devoted book lovers with a business bent say that the economic setting has been right for small, highly personal ventures.
The lesson in the decline of big stores, these owners say, is not that no one wants to buy books. It’s that the big stores were too big. They had overreached and, in trying to be all things to all readers, had lost a sense of intimacy that books and reading seem to thrive on.
“Every time I go down there, it’s like meeting family, hanging out with people who like what I like,” Katsu says. “They even got me started drinking wine again!”
Hayes, working to get her and Patchett’s store opened in Nashville, is in final negotiations for a lease. After working at a publishing house and as a regional sales representative for more than two decades, she knows the business well — but still waited to open the venture until she had the financial ability to work one year without taking a paycheck. Patchett, whose books have sold millions of copies, is likewise not counting on the store for mortgage money.
“It’s so important to be able to put everything back into a small business in that first year,” Hayes says.
Perhaps the key characteristic these owners share is a beyond-business-hours fascination with their product.
McGervey loves mysteries and came to the business with a solid understanding of spreadsheets and accounting. She attended a weeklong seminar run by the ABA for prospective bookstore owners and noticed that stores that offered something more than books did better on the bottom line. So she added two of her favorite things — wine and chocolate — and now offers a couple of dozen wines, ranging from the $9.50 Tamas Pinot Grigio to the $24.29 Bouchaine Pinot Noir. McGervey also looked for the right location for more than 18 months, settling on a small street near a couple of restaurants and a large apartment building.
“A lot of times, residents will come in to pick up a bottle of wine, find one that they like and then come back in a couple of times a week for it,” she says. “Then they’ll come in for author events.”
Stefanovich had been a stay-at-home mom since her twins were born seven years ago. She says she had been in their classrooms almost every day. “Now I pick them up from school four days a week, get them home and fed and to bed and then the laptop comes out. . . . It’s great, but I’d be lying if I said it was all easy and fun.”
Skees opened his stand-alone storefront in November, unhappy to discover the technicalities of zoning restrictions and code inspections after having gutted the premises (it had been a karate studio before standing empty for several years). It delayed his opening by more than a month, causing him to miss a town festival that he was counting on to help him launch.
He has one full-time employee and one part-time, his wife and teenage sons help out, and he’s there seven days a week. He acknowledges that “at times, it’s been a little overwhelming.”
But he was a lifelong sci-fi fan, loved books and had spent several years saving for the opportunity to open a store, all while developing business models. He says he’s not at what he initially projected — but it’s better than his worst-case scenario, too.
“If you can pay your bills and are happy doing what you’re doing, that’s the key,” he says. “It’s really pretty neat being surrounded by your passion.”
Fiction editor Ron Charles contributed to this report.