Saturday, December 10, 2005

Comment: Celebrations

Yesterday was my birthday -- 27 big ones. The day was celebrated in suitable fashion, and I have the feeling that it's going to be a good year, full of big doings in the book world.

In the spirit of celebration, I'm devoting this post to some good news about booksellers. I've run across a number of references lately to new and old stores and young and old booksellers that are making a go of it, with new ideas, great business models, and the passion for books and people that makes indie bookstore magic. I've pasted the best parts of their stories below, with links to where they appeared whenever possible. Enjoy!

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"Greta Kanne and her husband, Chris Harper, recently purchased the Book Juggler, a 22-year-old used and new bookstore in Willits, Calif., about halfway between San Francisco and Eureka. Kanne wrote to Shelf Awareness that she worked at the store as a teenager before going to work at Chaucer's Books in Santa Barbara, where she met Harper. 'Between the two of us, we've worked in seven bookstores and are just thrilled at last to be our own bookmasters.'

"Kanne added that Willits, a town of 10,000, has a large percentage of bibliophiles. "Willits has supported both the Book Juggler and Leaves of Grass Books, a great new bookstore, for more than 20 years. We are both proud to help carry on the bookselling tradition."

(from Shelf Awareness, December 8 edition)

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"Every year the Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, Tex., aims to grow 10%, a target it has reached all but one year since Valerie Koehler opened the store in 1996. (The one off year was 2002, during which Blue Willow was up over the previous year, but not 10%.) "We're on track to hit 10% again," Koehler told Shelf Awareness. 'We work hard at it. We'll die young, but we like it.'

"In general, Blue Willow 'keeps pounding the same message home: that if customers want service, they should come here," Koehler said. "We can't compete with the big guys but we provide a neighborhood atmosphere. Many of our staff know the people in the area. We try to be a family and be upbeat.'"

(from Shelf Awareness, December 8 edition)

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"The Hudson Valley boasts an exceptional group of independent booksellers. The Golden Notebook is going strong at 27 years old; Dutchess County's Oblong Books has two locations, and Merritt Books three. A relative newcomer, Inquiring Mind, carved out a niche on a well-trafficked corner in Saugerties. There are even a few ambitious new kids on the block.
The Spotty Dog Books & Ale, which opened this July on Hudson's historic Warren Street, may set new standards for diversity: besides offering over 10,000 books, the former Victorian firehouse also sells art supplies, and its vintage bar serves artisanal beers including Kick-Ass Brown and Espresso Stout.

"Warwick's newly opened Baby Grand Café is another multitasker, combining an antiquarian book business with a coffeehouse music series, a gallery, and space for community events. Co-owner Ruth Siegel acknowledges that bookselling is 'a dying business,' but waxes eloquent about the tactile pleasures of browsing and handling books, and the importance of reading. 'Literature is about freedom of independent thought. Books have been banned and burned throughout history. It's so important to be there, especially in this cultural climate," says the new mother, who opened the store with her husband in spite of financial duress and a flood that decimated their stock. "A bookstore is just a positive place. It really is.'"

(from this article in CHRONOGRAM, an online magazine.)

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Publishers Weekly interviews Ed Devereux, Owner of Unabridged Books, "a Chicago independent store that is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month."

"PW: In the midst of all this competition, how have you managed to prosper?

E.D.: One of the reasons is because of our mission—we've always wanted to sell just books, in a bricks-and-mortar store, in a neighborhood. At the beginning Walden and Dalton had a certain mix; in fact the percentage of sales from non-book items at several Walden stores was larger than from books. We don't even want to have an online presence; we want to hand-sell the books to customers in the store. Also, all along I decided that I wanted to have only full-time help, no part-timers. That way you get people who have a better knowledge of books and a better knowledge of the store. And by paying them more than most bookstores and providing them with full benefits, people here stay a long time. So you have very little turnover, and everyone gets to know your customers thoroughly, by name, by face."

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Congratulations to Unabridged Books on their anniversary. And thanks to Book Juggler, Leaves of Grass, Blue Willow, Golden Notebook, Oblong Books, Merritt Books, Inquiring Mind, Spotty Dog, Baby Grand, and Unabridged for helping to make my own anniversary happy and full of hope.