A resurgence in independent bookselling has led to an influx of new booksellers. And not only has the rebounding sector seen more independent bookstores but it’s also seen new people taking over existing stores. In the past three years, 58 independent bookstores have come under new ownership. According to Mark Kaufman, a partner in the Bookstore Training Group of Paz & Associates, “interest in owning a bookstore has never been higher.” Why? He credits a strong economy, growing appreciation for the shop local movement, the shuttering of big-box stores, and “some pushback to Amazon’s dominance.”
To see how some of those 58 new booksellers are faring, we checked in with six stores around the country that have recently changed hands. Some new owners, such as Stephanie Hochschild at the Book Stall in Illinois, have tried to continue the practices and accomplishments of their predecessors. For others, such as Joe Hight at Oklahoma’s Best of Books, the past few years have been focused on rebranding and starting fresh.
Bennington Bookshop, Bennington, Vt.
Purchased March 2015
It’s been a year since Phil Lewis and Linda Foulsham purchased the store, which is located near Bennington College and Southern Vermont College. The couple, who had been living in Australia, spent two years looking to start a new store in Boone, N.C., before deciding to purchase this Vermont shop. “We thought if we start from scratch, we’re going to put a load of money in before we open,” Lewis explained. Instead they put in “sweat equity” by working nine-hour days, six days a week. For Lewis, though, the hardest thing hasn’t been the hours, it’s been the paperwork—taxes, purchase orders, and invoices. He’s also struggled with the number of suppliers. He and Foulsham plan to add a coffee bar, which they consider an essential part of a good bookstore. But even without coffee as a draw, the store was up 15% in 2015 over the previous year. Contributing to its success were local bestsellers, such as Megan Mayhew Bergman’s story collection Almost Famous Women and Kimalie Wassick’s self-published Basil and Prune series of stories for children. Books by Vermonters Archer Mayer and Howard Frank Mosher were also strong sellers.
Best of Books, Edmond, Okla.
Purchased October 2014
For Joe Hight, buying the bookstore with his wife, Nancy, and daughter, Elena, marked a coming home. (The couple are Oklahoma natives, but she had spent two years teaching in Honduras, and he had been serving as editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette.) “What I could bring to the table is a knowledge of technology, social media, and websites,” Hight said. “My wife has a retail background; my daughter has a knowledge of business.” Hight replaced the store’s website and rebranded the store with the acronym BOB to attract a younger audience. He also partnered with other indies—Brace Books & More in Ponca City and Full Circle Bookstore in Oklahoma City—to launch an Oklahoma bestsellers list. “We’ve learned a lot in the last year and a half,” Hight said. “The hardest thing is to anticipate what people want,” he noted, explaining that this is the case for both books and events. He continues to experiment with the latter and said that he is willing to try “anything.” Above all, he believes learning is key. “If we as bookstore owners are always learning, we can move forward,” he said.
The Book Stall at Chestnut Court, Winnetka, Ill.
Purchased June 2013
Although she worked in the store for months before buying it from long-time owner Roberta Rubin, Stephanie Hochschild still considers herself a newbie. In part, that’s because she has to keep up with a “very vibrant store,” which was PW’s 2012 Bookstore of the Year. “We’re trying to follow in Roberta’s tradition,” Hochschild said. The Book Stall maintains an extensive events schedule, with frequent book club meetings, and has a robust presence on Facebook and Twitter. Hochschild may feel like she’s juggling at times, but whatever she’s doing is working. “Sales are very good, and we continue to be up,” Hochschild said. To continue to expand, she is looking at getting more aggressive about B2B, especially given the number of corporate campuses in the area. She is also looking to increase online sales. “People would like to support independents online,” Hochschild said. She acknowledged that it’s hard competing with Amazon, but the bookstore has already built up interest in its autographed books on its website and is upgrading to the latest version of Drupal.
That Bookstore in Blytheville, Blytheville, Ark.
Purchased December 2013
When Chris Crawley moved back to Arkansas, from Los Angeles, he thought he was coming home to die. The former talent and literary manager suffered three strokes as a result of black mold in the apartment where he had been living in California. Since relocating, his health has rebounded. And as the new owner of his childhood bookstore, Crawley has made some changes. He has shifted the store’s focus and begun carrying deeper inventory in middle grade, general fiction and nonfiction, and bestsellers; he’s also started encouraging special orders. Under his ownership, TBIB experienced 20% growth in 2014 over the previous year, and 25% growth in 2015. “Despite the spike I’ve been able to generate,” Crawley said, “it’s a challenge for me.” In order to turn a profit, he said, he has to sell additional lines of products and services; without these, he said, “the bookstore cannot be profitable.” With this in mind, he is looking to expand the store’s footprint and add a cafe with items such as coffee, smoothies, beer, wine, and food. Crawley’s also planning to introduce a store imprint this spring, Invictus Publishing. He will publish some of his own work through Invictus in 2017.
Chevalier’s Books, Los Angeles
Purchased October 2014
Neither Bert Deixler nor Darryl Holter can remember whose idea it was to buy their neighborhood bookstore, which was deep in debt at the time of their purchase. But Holter, who runs his father-in-law’s automotive dealership business and calls himself a “recovering academic,” has no regrets. “The independent bookstore is part of the intellectual infrastructure of Los Angeles,” he said. Vital as the store may be, making it profitable has been hard. By the end of their first year, the store nearly broke even, losing only $3,000. To move into the black, Holter said he and Deixler updated their inventory control system, which has allowed them to cut back their overall inventory. What they found harder was reestablishing relationships with publishers and distributors. Holter is at the store at least once a week, and he and Deixler are in touch with staff daily.
Island Books, Mercer Island, Wash.
Purchased July 2015
After 16 years at Microsoft, Laurie Raisys was ready to be her own boss. Rather than start her own business, she targeted the iconic bookstore that she was introduced to on her first visit to the island. In January 2015, Raisys got a note from bookstore owner Roger Page that he was interested in retiring; by April, Raisys was working in receiving. Since purchasing the store last summer, she can regularly be found on the sales floor. Raisys bristles when customers thank her for saving the store. “The bookstore didn’t need to be saved. It does well,” she said. During her first year, Raisys has made few changes. Her husband, a former executive at Dell and Microsoft, has taken on the role of “the IT guy,” and her oldest daughter will work in the store during certain high-volume times of year. So far it’s working. “We had some record days during the holidays,” Raisys said, “and a record-breaking Christmas Eve.”