The past few years have seen a resurgence of independent booksellers, with new shops opening in communities that haven’t previously had many bookstores, or that had only Borders outlets—until the chain went under in 2011. To see how they’re faring, PW checked in with six booksellers that have been in business for less than two years. They range from high-concept stores like the Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Fla., modeled after an English club, to small general bookstores like New Bo Books in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which has a cooperative relationship with Prairie Lights in Iowa City. Some of the shops opened with unexpected challenges. Monte Cristo Books in New London, Conn., had to move into a new location after only seven months, and the owners’ son was born on what was supposed to have been moving day. To keep its name, Face in a Book in El Dorado Hills, Calif., had to be approved by Facebook’s legal team, which also weighed in on the store’s colors.
Books on Broad (Camden, S.C.)
Opened June 2012; 2,500 sq. ft.
“I always thought when I retired I’d have a bookstore,” said Bill Funderburk, who continues to practice law and to teach English at the University of South Carolina, even after opening the store with his wife, state Representative Laurie Funderburk. “My idea of a bookstore did not have a cash register, but only a coffeepot,” he said. Fortunately the register is ringing, and Funderburk added a coffee bar in March. So far, he said in his understated way, “it’s been pretty successful. We’ll be here for another year.” Books on Broad, which is located in the former Kirkwood Books space, carries general books, along with some collectibles. “We’re doing everything we can do to make this a destination for local folks,” said Funderburk, who holds one or two author signings a month. Since Camden was the site of two Revolutionary War battles, the store’s bestselling category is local history.
New Bo Books (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
Opened July 2012; 800 sq. ft.
Mary Ann Peters wanted Iowa City’s Prairie Lights to open a second store in Cedar Rapids, which is 20 minutes away. But when owners Jan Weissmiller and Jane Mead declined, Peters opened her own store in the community’s arts district, working out a cooperative arrangement with Prairie Lights. Because of space constraints, New Bo Books can only have two copies of any given title in stock, and when Peters makes her decisions on what to order, she sends the list to Prairie Lights, which processes the books when they arrive and then delivers them to her store. The relationship, Peters noted, “is working out beautifully.” She wasn’t “totally pleased” with sales in 2013, however; the previous year’s Christmas season was better. Plus, the weather hasn’t been good at the start of 2014. “We realize it’s a big experiment,” said Peters, a former librarian. She’s exploring renting out the space for events, and has already had several requests to hold baby showers there.
Bluebird Books (Hutchinson, Kans.)
Opened November 2012; 1,900 sq. ft.
Melanie Green had been a physical therapist and a stay-at-home mom before she opened her bookstore and coffee bar, which she’d been thinking about doing for a decade. In fact, she originally planned to open the store in 2008, but had second thoughts when the recession hit. It wasn’t until 2012, when the economy improved and independent stores were making a comeback, that she decided to move forward. So far, she said, “business has been solid. My first year was good: I was very pleased—especially with the community response.” She put a lot of energy into creating a welcoming atmosphere. “We repurposed a lot of old architectural pieces, went back to the original brick walls, and the old tin ceiling,” Green said. Although the store does well with children’s books, its top seller so far is Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone, which takes place in nearby Wichita. Green also sold a lot of copies of Amy Stewart’s The Drunken Botanist, and held a sold-out Drunken Botanist cocktail party earlier this month that Stewart attended via Skype.
The Bookstore at Oxford Exchange (Tampa, Fla.)
Opened September 2012; 1,500 sq. ft.
The Oxford Exchange houses a coffee and tea bar, a restaurant, a private-membership library, and conference rooms, as well as a retail shop with furniture, jewelry, and oversized books from Taschen and Chronicle. The Exchange’s entrance is through the bookstore, which has nine-foot bookcases, with most books displayed face-out; a marble floor; and a green leather ceiling. Literary advisor Alison Powell—who had been a bookseller at Bauman Rare Books in Las Vegas, before she moved to Florida to manage the Oxford Exchange store—said that the initial emphasis was on expensive books, but now it’s more a mix of hardcovers and trade paperbacks. The store also continues to sell classics, and even published its own leather-bound edition of Jane Eyre. To get customers who favor fiction to browse nonfiction and frontlist readers to explore more backlist, Powell came up with some unusual sections. Categories vary from Wonder to Solace, Swashbuckling, and Things Are Different in France. In addition to current books, the store has done well with vintage books and typewriters, which were initially brought in as part of the decor. “Christmas 2013 obliterated our Christmas 2012,” said Powell. “We set some very lofty sales goals and bested them by quite a bit.”
Face in a Book (El Dorado Hills, Calif.)
Opened May 2012; 1,200 sq. ft., expanding to 1,800 sq. ft. in March
“We’ve been way more successful than I thought we would be,” said owner Tina Ferguson, who is currently in the midst of expanding the store to include a larger children’s section with more educational toys, along with nonfiction for adults. “We experienced a 30% [sales] increase at Christmas over last Christmas. We’re becoming the go-to place for books and gifts [in the area].” The additional space will allow the store to hold larger events. Ferguson, who ran a 30-person direct-sales business from her home while raising her children, says she decided to open the store because, she recalled, “our local big box had gone away, and I thought people should stop Facebooking and get their face in a book.” The store is 75% books and 25% gifts, but its children’s book section outsells the rest of the merchandise three to one, in part because of Ferguson’s connection to local schools from her days as PTA president.
Monte Cristo Bookshop (New London, Ct.)
Opened November 2012; 1,600 sq. ft.
Owner Chris Jones described his book sales as steadily climbing, due mainly to the events he does both in and out of the store. He looks for opportunities to get Monte Cristo’s name out at festivals, like last summer’s Connecticut Schooner Festival, where he rented a large tent and hosted nine authors, and at smaller gatherings, like a recent conference at a nearby police station. The store sells new and used books, along with a shelf of DVDs, and it moved last July to the first floor of a building that has artist studios. Jones likes to think of the building as a little community within the larger community of New London. “We have a working-class customer base,” said Jones. “What’s going on in the New York Times top 10 is what’s going on in our store.” That said, his bestselling book for 2013 was Allegra di Bonaventura’s For Adam’s Sake: A Family Saga in Colonial New England, which is centered in New London. He sold 400 copies in the first two weeks. “People want to buy the New London book in a New London bookstore,” said Jones.