Friday, October 06, 2006

Comment: New York Speaks about Bookstores

Wow! I've just discovered an amazing new community at Brooklynian.com. It's a linked series of blogs and message boards for discussion on issues related to different Brooklyn neighborhoods. Wednesday evening I logged on to the Prospect Heights forum and posted the topic "Who Needs a Bookstore?", asking users where they thought might be the best potential spots for a literary bookstore/cafe in Brooklyn. Since then there have been nearly 40 replies and over 400 readers! Most are excited, though some are discouraging -- it's an interesting cross-section of New York public opinion. Check out the conversation if you're interested.

Interestingly, this comes on the heels of the announcement that major New York indie bookstore Coliseum Books is closing, for the second time. Their first location on Columbus Circle closed due to massive rent hikes several years ago, and though they were able to open up in a new location on Bryant Park, their sales never really recovered.

Of course, this is cause for much woe-to-the-bookstore, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Check the Times in the next few days for an article containing other indie store owner's takes on the situation (including a particularly feisty comeback from my own boss). Coliseum's closing is heartbreaking, but I don't think it's inevitable, or indicative of the destiny of New York indie stores in general. Coliseum's business model just didn't work for their location, and that sucks. But check out the list at right for half a dozen indies that are surviving and thriving in the city.

I just came off of posting practically a manifesto on the Brooklynian boards, so my dander is all up. You know how I feel about snarks and naysayers -- sometimes my joy and optimism about independent bookstores can get a little militant itself. Check out what's happening, and form your own opinion. What do you think Coliseum's closing means, if anything? What do you think is the future of indie stores in New York, or other urban areas? How much of the story about the "time of financial troubles for independent book retailers across the nation" (to quote the Times) is an issue of focus?

10 comments:

CRwM said...

I don't have anything to say about the future of indie bookstores, but I will say that I'll actually miss Coliseum.

I remember shopping there with you during their last "closing" sale.

Sad news.

Von Allan said...

Hey there,

I don't know Brooklyn at all (I'm a happy Canadian!) but I'm wondering if you've had a chance to stop by Rocketship on Smith Street (http://rocketshipstore.blogspot.com/)? I've heard just amazing things about his store and while it focuses on comics and graphic novels, it seems to have a very strong presence.

Just curious!

Miraida said...

My thought's on Coliseum's sad demise: I think that, unfortunately, the location of Coliseum's 2nd opening was not the most ideal and might have had something to do with their inability to recouperate sales. They were on a block of Manhattan that was not all that residential, and instead, was mostly commuter-heavy. So I say to you this: as you plan the locale of your new venture, please do some 'market research.' Find out who the foot traffic is in that area. Make sure the businesses around you are businesses that are likely to attract the people who would like to hang out in a bookstore. For instance, after I drop off my dry cleaning, I might wander into a nearby bookstore. Take note of the businesses around you and who frequents those places? Who are the folks who walk on the sidewalks in front of your desired locale? Is it neighborhoody? I hope my suggestions help!
Oh, and as a shameless plug, can I suggest you look into carrying Spanish language titles? At least in your children's section? I know, I'm forcing you to think farther ahead than you probably have been. Good luck!

Andy Laties said...

Unless I'm mistaken a big Barnes & Noble opened close to the Coleseum's new location AFTER Coleseum had opened. I believe that it's actually safer to move next to a B&N than to have a B&N open next to you. That is: if you can adjust your strategy intentionally to a crowded marketplace, you may be safer than if you choose an uncrowded market only to be shocked by the arrival of an unexpected competitor.

So -- I suggest that in Brooklyn, you open AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE to at least one other bookstore. BEST would be to open right next to a huge superstore: then you develop a superdeep and somewhat scandalous specialty category that the mega-corporation can't safely touch. Funkadelia.

By doing this you innoculate yourself. And you avoid complacency. (But I do mean RIGHT NEXT to -- if you open around the corner or down the block this strategy doesn't work.)

Andy

Book Nerd said...

Von Allen -- I LOVE Rocketship!! The ALP and I walk over there on the weekend at least once a month to check out their new selections and bask in the smart comic book love. I'm jealous of their name, too -- it's so perfect. They've got a beautiful space, a smart staff, and brilliantly chosen stock -- my recipe for a great store.

Book Nerd said...

Miraida -- we're thinking so much alike it's either uncanny, or I must be doing something right. I 100% agree that scoping the neighborhood is mandatory -- soliciting the opinions of the Brooklynians is part of that, and as I narrow down my focus I'm planning to stake out neighborhoods, streets and blocks to get a handle on foot traffic and buying patterns. Lots of planning is one of the few resources I've got at this point.

And I DEFINITELY want to have Spanish language books -- I think there's a huge community of Spanish-speaking readers, especially in Brooklyn, that's woefully underserved. My high school/college Spanish is a little pathetic, but I'm hoping to find some staff who can specialize in that, as well as in all the other places I'm weak. Thanks for your suggestions -- I'm right there with ya!

Book Nerd said...

Andy -- I'm definitely going to be positioning myself in contrast to the big new Borders opening up in the Williamsburg Bank (not to mention the B&Ns on 7th Avenue and Court Street). At first I was thinking I didn't want to be anywhere in sight of the Bank, so as not to be the smaller of two convenient options -- but since you can see the bank from almost anywhere in western Brooklyn, and I'm planning to offer something completely different from Borders, now I'm thinking I choose my spot and "innoculate myself," as you say, with inimitable specialty books and atmosphere. Thanks for your thoughts, as always!

Von Allan said...

Oh, I hear you. It really sounds like Alex and his partner have things really working well. And yeah, I'm insanely jealous of what they do. I loved managing a store here in Ottawa (perfectbooks.ca) but I'd love to do more of an arts-oriented store down the road. 'Course, I'm doing more on the book side of things, so I probably shouldn't complain to much.

And yes, it's a fantastic store name.

Von

Noelle said...

As famous as 42nd street is (does your street have both a movie and a musical named for it?) it is not a great location for a bookstore, or any retail store. Even the huge national chains have choked under the pressure, and the street kind of dies east of Broadway. I've walked in the area of Coliseum many times, and it is almost always nicer to stay on the south side of the street, hugging the park and away from the glare of the afternoon sun. It's too bad that it had to be an indie store that suffered in this way, because I think a chain would have done just as badly in that location.

Oh, and I have to put in a good word for Rocket Ship as well. What a great store!

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