Like their counterparts who have been in the book business for many years, today’s new bookstore owners are convinced of the value of bricks-and-mortar stores. Most new stores tend to be small, frequently 1,300 sq. ft. or less, and often fill a particular niche: Book Larder focuses on cookbooks; Curious Cup on children’s.
But even with a tough economy, not everyone is going small. In the absence of Borders, Jason Zutaut and his partner and brother-in-law, Erik Christensen, founders of the Book Shack, think it could be time for regional chains to make a comeback. They have opened two stores within the past seven months. According to Zutaut, they will open one or two more stores by fall.
Avid Bookshop Athens, Ga.
l opened October 2011; 790 sq. ft.
“I always dreamed of having a bookshop,” says Janet Geddis, owner of Avid Bookshop. Since fall 2007 she has worked to make that a reality by attending BEA and Winter Institute and interning at other bookstores. Although she raised only a fraction of her $13,000 goal through IndieGoGo, Geddis praises the fund-raising/social networking site for helping her get the word out about the store. “It turned out to be a cool marketing device,” she says. “We had a great reception from Athens and from the industry. Everybody’s been rooting for us,” she says. “The store’s been doing really well.” So well, in fact, that she just added two more part-time booksellers and will add five University of Georgia student interns this summer.
Book Larder Seattle, Wash.
l opened October 2011; 800 sq. ft.
When Lara Hamilton left Microsoft, she wanted to try something different. She began by managing the Cooks & Books series at Kim Ricketts Book Events, which she now owns. Last fall, Hamilton and KRBE expanded their commitment to books and food by opening Book Larder, which specializes in new, imported, and vintage/collectible cookbooks. “I knew I wanted to do something in food and had the bookstore idea for a few years,” she says. In addition to selling books, Book Larder offers cooking demonstrations, classes, and signings in its kitchen. For Hamilton, the biggest surprise was the warm welcome that the store received from the community, including area businesses. She holds yoga and food retreats with the Yoga Tree, a next-door neighbor.
The Book Shack Kingston, Mass.
l opened October 2011; 23,000 sq. ft.; Hanover, Mass. l opened March 2012; 4,000 sq. ft.
“Borders definitely created a void. Things are spinning around for the independents,” says co-owner Jason Zutaut. The Book Shack is one of the few startup chains to step into that space. Its initial store is located in a former Borders; its second is staffed mostly with employees from a closed Borders Express across the street from the mall in Hanover. But it also owes its emphasis on value to Zutaut’s bargain wholesale business, Book Enterprises. Book Shack’s inventory is half bargain, 30% new (with a flat 10% discount), and 20% nonbook. Although he regards the ideal size for the Book Shack as 12,000 sq. ft., he is considering converting a 27,000-sq.-ft. Value Booksellers in Methuen, Mass.—a bargain store that is part of Book Enterprises—into a Book Shack.
Curious Cup Carpinteria, Calif.
l opened January 2011; 1,200 sq. ft. retail and a 500 sq. ft. event room
Kiona Cross attended bookselling school before moving to California to open a children’s specialty store. She was able to stretch her budget by buying fixtures from a Borders that closed in nearby Santa Barbara, which also lost a Barnes & Noble. Originally she planned to have a bookstore/cafe, but she had too much difficulty obtaining a health permit. Now she uses the second room, with a separate street entrance, for book clubs, seminars, and classes. To cater to her community, Cross stocks graphic novels, adult fiction, and Spanish-language books for children and adults, and she displays artwork by children. “The first year I did do what I was expecting,” says Cross, whose sales are up between 5% and 10% in year two. “I joke, some days I volunteer, some days I pay myself. Business is slow everywhere.”
Dragonfly Books Decorah, Iowa
l opened February 2011; 1,300 sq. ft.
Former academic librarian Kate Rattenberg is pleased with the store. “It’s actually been going wonderfully. The community has given such strong support to a local, independent bookstore,” she says, adding, “like everyone, I’d like to be doing a little better in sales.” She’s been surprised by the diversity of local bestsellers, which run the gamut from Fifty Shades of Grey to Mark Tabb’s The Sacred Acre, about the 2008 Iowa tornado and subsequent killing of high school football coach Ed Thomas. “Just in the last year,” says Rattenberg, “I’ve seen the embarrassment of some of my customers. Their husband bought them a Kindle for Christmas or a birthday,” and they’ve cut back their store purchases. That hasn’t disappointed her as much as the difficulty in getting them to shop her Web site (www.dragonflybooks.com). “I really thought I’d be doing more with e-books and print books online,” she says.