Not all landlords want a bookstore so much that they’ll forego market rates, but there are a growing number who do. “I very much believe that [a bookstore] is the lifeblood of a town,” said Chuck Royce, president and co-chief investment officer of Royce & Associates. Through 10 Ocean, which he formed with Daniel King, Royce is remaking downtown Westerly, R.I., with a number of amenities, including an independent bookstore, Savoy Bookshop & Café. The town’s previous indie, the Other Tiger, closed in April 2014.
Meanwhile, Royce’s group bought a 2,500-sq.-ft. storefront with a two-story space that he deemed perfect for the store. The company, at its own expense, is in the midst of building out the space in order to make a second bookstore more affordable for Annie Philbrick and Patience Banister, owners of Bank Square Books in nearby Mystic, Conn. The pair will own and operate the bookstore and 14-ft. coffee bar. As part of the deal, their rent will be based on the previous month’s sales.
“They’re making it so we really will thrive,” said Philbrick, who first began thinking about a second location three years ago, when RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn., went on the market. She anticipates that the new store will be similar to the bookstore in Mystic, which has attracted some of the Other Tiger’s patrons. The two stores will share staff, including an events person. One possible difference in inventory is that Savoy will likely stock more high-end items geared to guests at another Royce project, Ocean House, the luxury hotel that he restored in Watch Hill, R.I.
Royce isn’t the only developer to recognize an independent bookstore’s importance to the community. When Arts+Practice Foundation wanted to revitalize the Leimert Park section of Los Angeles, which had historically been a center for African-American art and culture, they reached out to James Fugate and Tom Hamilton, owners of 27-year-old Eso Won Books, who already had a store in the neighborhood.
A+P cofounder, artist Mark Bradford, a recipient of a MacArthur “Genius Grant,” personally invited the booksellers to move across the street later this summer to a storefront that the foundation is building out for them. In addition, Bradford promised the store that although the new space will have a larger retail footprint than its current 1,200-sq.-ft. location, the rent will be the same or less. Above the bookstore, A+P is creating a 100-seat events space, and Eso Won will have priority in booking programming for it. “I’m very excited now that I can see the physical layout of the store,” Fugate said.
“The collaboration between Eso Won Books and A+P is one rooted in the common goal of empowering people through education and ultimately strengthening a Los Angeles community,” said A+P education director Danielle Wright. “The inclusion of an independently owned bookstore on A+P’s campus provides a venue for these goals to converge, through A+P’s lecture series and Eso Won’s vast selection of African-American history and literature offerings.”
When Bonnie Slotnick, owner of the eponymous cookbook store in New York City’s West Village, lost her lease last fall, siblings Garth and Margo Johnston invited her to rent the retail space in what had been their family home in the East Village. The site had previously housed an ad agency and an art gallery. For Margo Johnston, who continues to live in the building, the bookstore contributes to “the fabric of the neighborhood. When I was growing up, there was a store that sold eggs from New Jersey only on Thursday. We grew up with an appreciation of shopping at different [independent] stores.”
Earlier this year Slotnick moved into her new bookstore space, which is three times the size of her previous location. For the first time, she’s been able to hold events, such as a book signing for The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook a few weeks ago, and to invite neighborhood groups to meet at the store. Slotnick’s also been able to enlarge her children’s section and even has a little children’s table and chairs that belonged to the Johnstons’ grandmother. “[Margo’s] done everything she can to make me happy,” said Slotnick, who refers to both brother and sister as “my angels” on her website.
After Waldenbooks closed at the Wakefield Mall in Wakefield, R.I., in late 2010, mall owner Geoffrey Levy wanted to find a way to maintain a bookstore there. “He basically gave us working capital to get it going,” explained Bob Ryan, who was manager of the old Waldenbooks and who became the owner of Wakefield Books, the renamed store. “When we first opened [in 2011], we were pretty nervous,” Ryan said. “When you’re a bookstore manager for Walden, all you’re allowed to do is turn on the lights. It was a big change.” Since then he and the store’s five staffers have made the 2,500-sq.-ft. space work for their customers. In 2014, sales were up slightly over 2013.
Even long-time stores have had to rely on help from their landlords at some point. That was the case for 35-year-old Village Books in Bellingham, Wash., when it first opened. “Early on,” owner Chuck Robinson recalled, “our landlord suspended our rent and rolled it into a low-interest loan. It allowed us to get back on our feet.”
More recently, Robinson has benefitted from the fact that more and more landlords want bookstores in their complexes. In fall 2011, he was recruited by the owner of the Bellis Fair Mall in Bellingham and experimented with a second store by opening a 3,000-sq.-ft. pop-up there. Concerned that it could cannibalize business in the main store over the long term, Robinson closed the store at the end of the holiday season. Now he has found a 3,000-sq.-ft. space for a second, permanent store in Lynden, Wash., which will open the first week in November.
But it’s not only the distance from the flagship store that convinced Robinson that it will work; it’s also the terms for the new combined bookstore and gift store, Village Books and Village Dreams. “We took the numbers from ABACUS [ABA’s yearly survey of booksellers’ operations] and went to the people doing the development and said, ‘Here’s the percentage rent we can afford to pay,’ and we did the deal.”