Two long-time independents, Susan Novotny, owner of the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, N.Y., and David Didriksen, owner of Willow Books in Acton, Mass., are taking advantage of the shrinking footprint of chain retailers by launching Bookstore Solutions Management, or BS Management as it is affectionately known. The idea is to open a network of independent bookstores in spaces previously occupied by chain bookstores that had become community destinations.
Working with Wakefield Mall owner Jeff Levy, Novotny and Didriksen will open their first new independent on Saturday, Wakefield Books. It is not only on the site of the 30-year-old Wakefield, R.I., Waldenbooks that closed at the end of January, it also has the same booksellers (including manager Bob Ryan), shelving, and fixtures. But the changes—including new carpeting, paint, counter, and title selection—will transform it into an independent. It already sports an Eat, Sleep, Read poster covering the Walden and Borders Express names. The 2,500 sq. ft. store will also have a large local section because of the tourists drawn to nearby Narragansett Beach and a larger children’s area.
For Novotny, it’s essential that each store be joined to its community in name and spirit. “What we saw in Bob Ryan and the staff,” she says, “was an impressive loyalty and dedication to bookselling and the community. Our combined chemistry is working beautifully, and Wakefield will be among the first communities across the nation where the book phoenix rises from the ashes.” Adds Didriksen, “Just because we have new toys on the market doesn’t mean books and bookstores are going to go away. Smaller, community-based bookstores that are run in a business-minded fashion will survive.” Novotny will begin as the buyer for the store. something that will transition to Wakefield Books. Didriksen will oversee operations.
Novotny says that the pair aren’t targeting specific bookstores, although they do plan to stay in their own backyard. “We’re hoping that mall owners that lose bookstores might see that it’s in their best interest to bring in experienced booksellers,” she says. “It requires a forward-thinking landlord. We’re using this as a prototype. It’s an opportunity not just for David and I, but for other independents.”