Despite the odds—the growth of e-books, rising rent, and online discounting—bookstores continue to open and succeed. Speaking at the American Booksellers Association Forum in Medford, Mass., last month, ABA CEO Oren Teicher affirmed that membership in the organization has “stabilized,” and the number of bookstores is up slightly. PW contacted new bookseller/owners who have joined ABA over the past 18 months. Many are filling a void created by the collapse of Borders. Rebecca Glenn and Pete Ledesma, owners of the Book Frog, both worked for Borders stores. Some like Jennifer Cook, owner of Little Joe’s Books, are dipping their toes into the business for the first time and others have previously owned bookstores. A key for all, though, seems to be to think small, 400 to 2,700 sq. ft.
All on the Same Page Bookstore, Creve Coeur, Mo.
l opened October 2011; 900 sq. ft.
Last July, Robin Tidwell’s husband came home from work, looked at all the books in her office, and said, “We should open a bookstore.” Three months later they did, and now they’re thinking of adding another 600 sq. ft. The store, which is close to a former Borders, looks like a private library and carries a mix of 75% used, 25% new books. “We definitely have all the used books we can handle. There are so many people downsizing and wanting to get rid of their books,” says Robin. On the new side, she adds, “Our real strength is local books. We also work with a lot of independent presses. We’re not opposed to self-published books, if they’re good.” The store holds story times, writing seminars, and book signings.
The Book Frog, Rolling Hills Estates, Calif.
l opened November 2011; 2,700 sq. ft.
“Everything surprised us about owning a bookstore,” says Rebecca Glenn, who worked for Borders for 17 years and opened the store in Los Angeles County with her partner, Pete Ledesma, who worked for Borders for 15 years. “It’s really, really different to be a bookseller/owner. We never did any buying before.” On top of that, because their store is in a mall where Borders had been a destination but had been closed for six months before they opened, they’ve struggled with building a customer base. “It’s not gangbusters,” says Glenn, “but it’s a steady climb.” Good Yelp reviews like this five-star one from Erica J. should help: “Great Scott, Batman! It’s a bookstore in Palos Verdes! It’s well-lit and cozy, two very important qualities of a bookstore, big or small; and it has a book-knowledgeable, kind staff.”
Byrd’s Books, Bethel, Conn.
l opened December 2011; 450 sq. ft.
“I was considering a full-size bookstore, because we lost our Borders in Danbury,” says owner Alice Hutchinson, who managed her mother’s New Age bookstore, Pymander, in Norwalk for many years. “I think a small independent can work well.” The store, which is on the second floor of the Molten Java coffee shop, stocks 2,300 titles and focuses on local authors, poets, as well as children’s titles. So far, sales have been good. “I’m hitting it at just the right time, says Hutchinson. “I hope it lasts.”
Little Joe’s Books, Katonah, N.Y.
l opened October 2011; 650 sq. ft.
“The two smartest things I did was opening the store and then hiring the head of the children’s book department from Borders, Genevieve deBotton,” says owner Jen Cook. The children’s bookstore is the fourth business she’s tried in the upstairs of her two-story Victorian. Downstairs, Cook has operated NoKa Joe’s coffee shop for the past seven years. Even though members of the community had asked her to open a bookstore for years, it took Borders going out of business for her to decide to give bookselling a try. So far sales have exceeded Cook’s expectations, and the community has already gotten behind the store.
Union Ave Books, Knoxville, Tenn.
l opened June 2011; 1,600 sq. ft.
After Flossie McNabb closed Carpe Librum Booksellers in Knoxville in December 2010, she says that people “begged” her to open a new store. It didn’t take long for McNabb to find a new partner and a better location, in a newly renovated building in the downtown. Carpe Librum had been in a residential area. “We didn’t know what to expect,” says McNabb. “It exceeded what we thought.” The store has many of the book cases and a similar cash wrap to Carpe Librum. Former co-owner Shiela Wood-Navarro can also be found there; she manages the used-book department. With the first year under her belt, McNabb is optimistic. She’s also getting a new partner. Melinda Meador is stepping down, but will continue to do publicity and help with author requests. The new co-owner, Carey Christian, is returning to Knoxville and will maintain the Web site (www.unionavebooks.com) and handle finances.