In 2015, with the purchase of the Shakespeare & Co. name in the U.S. and the successful acquisition of a lease to the store’s former 5,000 sq. ft. location on Lexington Ave. on New York’s Upper East side, Dane Neller, cofounder and CEO of On Demand Books (the maker of the Espresso Book Machine) and a group of investors took the first steps toward creating an indie bookstore chain.
While Neller and friends are still shy of the number of locations that their namesake had at its height, six stores in New York City, the group plans to surpass that number next year. With its recently announced Brookfield Place store in Lower Manhattan slated to open next year, Espresso Bookstore & Café Holdings LLc., which does business as Shakespeare & Co., will have five stores in early 2020.
In addition to the flagship store on Lexington Ave., the company opened its first store in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square last October. A second New York City store, which opened the following month, marked Shakespeare & Co.’s return to the Upper West Side after a 20-year hiatus. A fourth store, which originally was to have opened in Greenwich Village late last year, is expected to open soon.
Shakespeare & Co. still has a long way to go to catch up with what is arguably the nation’s largest indie bookstore chain, Dallas’s Half-Price Books, which has over 120 stores. It’s also shy of multi-store regional booksellers like California’s Books Inc., with 11 outlets. But Neller plans to continue adding more stores—and raising more money. Earlier this month, Espresso Bookstore filed a form D with the SEC for $7.50 million in equity financing, of which it has financed $1.03 million so far.
“In addition to Brookfield, we’d like to do another three or four stores in 2020,” Neller told PW. As to locations for those stores, he adds, “We’d like to stay near our [New York City] core and fill out around Philadelphia. It’s not that scientific. It’s more about great sites and great value. [We] tend to be more opportunistic.” That’s been made possible, he notes, now that rents are coming down.
Neller is excited about the Brookfield store, which will not only have a good location in the mall but access to its Winter Garden so that it can hold large-scale book events. Like the other Shakespeare & Co. stores it will have a café and an Espresso Book Machine. When Neller decided to move his focus from selling machines through OnDemand Books to retail, he saw the book machine as essential to Shakespeare & Co.’s success.
“Espresso offers a more efficient supply chain, so we can go the last mile,” said Neller. “[And] so stores are never out of stock. That’s really important, when you can compete with online stores that contain millions of books.” The Espresso also provides another key element for Shakespeare & Co., an opportunity to do what Neller refers to as “local bespoke publishing.” When the Mueller report was released, Shakespeare & Co. collaborated with Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., to print the report. For Neller, that was a “classic example” of how bookstores can sell a lot of copies of public domain books. On Demand Books continues to seek out content and is willing to collaborate with other stores with the book machine,.
In looking at the future of Shakespeare & Co., Neller’s not comfortable with calling Shakespeare & Co. a “chain.” He prefers another “C” word, “constellation” of relatively small bookstores. In high urban areas, the stores would be roughly 2,500 to 3,000 sq. ft. Further out, stores would be closer to 4,000 to 6,000 sq. ft. tops.
As for an online strategy, it’s still early days. “Our view of online shopping,” said Neller, “is that it should be about selection and delivery. It’s not about price. It’s important to beat Amazon. We’re not that big yet. Our hope is that we can do that-day delivery through a Grubhub delivery service.”