"Virginia is really two states, Northern Virginia (NoVa) and the rest, but there's an ongoing debate where that dividing line is,” said Ed Southern, v-p of sales and marketing at John Blair. “Almost anyone who identifies themselves as a Virginian will agree that nothing inside or even bordering the Beltway can be considered Virginia.”
This split is mirrored in the bookselling community. Inventory for NoVa booksellers tends to be more closely attuned to the needs of metropolitan Washington, where many of their customers work, and several stores are part of the Washington-area multistore independents Olsson's and Karibu Books. Although history and religion are the strongest book categories in both parts of the state, sidelines, like the Confederate flags stocked by a Roanoke bookseller, are a different matter.
And wealth can be a dividing factor. NoVa includes three of the country's richest counties, with populations over 250,000. Loudoun, which has a median income of $98,483, is #1, followed by Fairfax with $94,610. Prince William places seventh with $81,904. However, parts of the rest of Virginia also have money; Virginia Beach is the fourth richest city in the U.S.
Stores throughout the state face stiff competition not just from online retailers but from brick-and mortar discounters like mass merchandisers and grocery stores. The Old Dominion State has a population of 7.46 million people and 78 national chain bookstores, 106 ABA and CBA stores and more than 150 mass merchandisers. Michigan, for example, has fewer book retailers and nearly three million more people.
Virginia is rich in American history. Four of the first five presidents hailed from the state, as did Robert E. Lee. And Virginia was the site of the first permanent settlement in the New World and the seat of the Confederacy. “Our thing is the tourists,” said Kelly Justice of Fountain Bookstore in Richmond. “We have a Civil War section and a resident expert on staff.”
Six years ago, when Colonial Williamsburg expanded its 900-sq.-ft. bookstore/gift shop into two separate 4,400 sq.-ft.-stores and broadened its inventory to compete with a nearby Barnes & Noble college store, sales dropped. “We went back to having everything we could on the colonial times,” said publications buyer John Hornback.
Prince Books in Norfolk, which is celebrating its 25th year, caters to those who come to the national headquarters of the Coast Guard or are en route to the Outer Banks. To compete with mass merchandisers, owner Sarah Pishko has begun discounting select bestsellers by Grisham and Patterson. “I don't want to marginalize myself,” said Pishko. A number of stores in her area have succumbed to the competition. During the past year Lambda Rising, Broad Street Books and a Walden closed.
At 16,000-sq.-ft. Givens Books and Little Dickens in Lynchburg, Danny Givens uses the “wow” factor to attract buyers. The walls are decorated with hand-drawn paintings, and a five-foot T-Rex marks the children's section, which has a doll house big enough for kids to play in. There's even a fish pond outside. “We really tried to push the limits,” said Givens, whose sales continue to rise, but at a much slower pace than in previous years. “We're lucky we're in an area big enough for Barnes & Noble, but not two or three.”
Last month Chapters Bookshop in Galax, home of the Old Fiddler's Convention, saw a bump in sales when it moved next door and added 500 sq. ft. Said owner Sharon Ritchie, “In the first week, we got so many customers, it was like opening a new McDonald's.”
Bookselling Health IndexHousehold Income: $50,805Population: 7,460,000Independent Bookstores: 106Chain Bookstores: 78Total Bookstores: 184Big-box Stores: 151Total Stores: 335Stores per Capita: 1 per 22,268Per Capita Rank: 21