As two independent booksellers in Door County, Wisc., close their doors, another two continue to press ahead. Passtimes Books in Sister Bay, which was founded in 1978, closed on October 26. Novel Ideas, in Baileys Harbor, founded in 2006, is closing this spring. While IslandTime Books on Washington Island will remain seasonal, and Up the Road Books, also on Washington Island, maintains its position as a regional specialty shop, Peninsula Bookman in Fish Creek is expanding its inventory to fill the niche left, the the closed stores.
In an open letter to Door County residents, Steve Grutzmacher, the owner of Passtimes, blamed a slowdown in tourism for his store's impending closing. “It has nothing to do with e-books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or any of that other stuff people are so quick to point to when an independent bookstore closes,” Grutzmacher explained, “They are incidental.” Grutzmacher said that, because of a shrinkage in the area’s tourist season--the high season is now only about six weeks in summer, with an eight month or more off-season--business has lagged. “This has been exacerbated by extremely bad weather” in recent years, he added.
Michelle Palmer, who owns Novel Ideas with her father, expressed the same reasons for scheduling her store’s closing sometime in late spring. “The seasonality up here is really hard,” she said. “Summers are really great, but winters are so slow."
Palmer initially cut back on winter hours at Novel Ideas, before deciding to close the store altogether. She’s already closed up a back room at the 1,200-square-foot store, and moved all the inventory into the front area. She’s “not really ordering” stock anymore, but is fulfilling special orders for customers. She intends to hold a sale of the remaining inventory and store fixtures in a few months.
While there are two outlets of Book World, a regional bookstore chain, in Door County, when Novel Ideas closes, the area’s 28,000 permanent residents will lose the last remaining general full-service bookstore, open year-round, in the county.
IslandTime Books, on Washington Island, is a general full-service bookstore that sells only new books, but its operations are seasonal. Owner Kathleen Dixon has opened the 750-square-foot space on Memorial Day weekend in May, and closed it after Columbus Day weekend in October since 2004. She spends her winters in Key West, Fla., selling used books. In contrast to Passtimes and Novel Ideas, the last two years, Dixon says, have been very good; she partially attributes a 5-10% increase in sales to the clientele of the coffeeshop next door. But, she adds, “People still want real books, even when they own Kindles.” Trade paper books are her strongest sellers to her primarily tourist customer base.
When Peninsula Bookman opened its doors in 2002, it was a used bookstore that opened its doors only during the summer/fall high season. Over the years though, owner Peter Sloma has expanded the inventory to include new books, and the 2,000-square-foot bookstore is now open every day of the year. While the inventory of 20,000 volumes currently is 85-90% used, the 10-15% of new books account for 35% of sales. Sales are up “just slightly” this year, Sloma says, noting that he previously focused on regional titles with the new books, but intends to significantly increase the ratio of new books to used, and to offer more of a variety, to better serve both permanent residents and tourists to the area.