Friday, April 03, 2009

Globe: Independent booksellers riding out recession.

Yesterday's edition of the Boston Globe has some good news for independent booksellers and their customers:

Signs on the doors of two Coolidge Corner bookstores told a tale challenging the conventional wisdom. The one at Barnes & Noble said "Closed." The one on the independent Brookline Booksmith welcomed the chain's customers and solicited their suggestions. Now, three months after Barnes & Noble departed, Booksmith savors modest growth in the midst of a recession that's battering most retailers.

"I do think there's a swing back to valuing local and independent," said Booksmith manager Dana Brigham. "Small and local can be good places to do business and very healthy for your community."

Booksmith is not the only independent bookstore proving surprisingly sturdy in a stormy economy. Other small booksellers are withstanding the downturn with the same combination of community involvement, personalized service, events, e-commerce, and such extras as caf├ęs or gifts or used books, that enabled them to survive the onset of megachains and

"There's a standard line that the independents are collapsing and they're all going to disappear soon. I think that's a little dated," said John Mutter, editor of the online newsletter Shelf Awareness, which tracks the book industry. "Most of the independents that are left are much stronger than the group as a whole before."

To read the rest of the story, click here. As one who enjoys visiting independent bookstores, I was pleased to find evidence (anecdotal though it may be) to suggest that many are managing to stay open in difficult times. What the Globe says about such perks as "community involvement, personalized service, events" and so on resonates with my own experience of independent booksellers. Whenever I return home to Southeastern Massachusetts, I try to make time to visit Baker Books, a locally-owned bookstore that has been in business for twenty years. One way that Baker Books maintains its loyal customer base is by showcasing the work of local authors (many of whom come in regularly for readings and book signings) and by stocking many books on the culture and history of greater New Bedford. Baker Books also offers free membership in a "Baker's Dozen" book club that allows customers to build up credit toward a substantially discounted (or even free) book for every twelve that they purchase. For reasons like these, I return to Baker Books as often as I can.

New York has many more independent bookstores than I can keep track of, but in my years here I've become loyal to McNally Jackson Books (formerly McNally Robinson), which offers a broad and appealingly eclectic inventory as well as an array of author events (I once had an encounter with Garrison Keillor there) in a relatively relaxed setting. If there is a place like Baker Books or McNally Jackson in your area - or if you happen to be reading this in SouthCoast Massachusetts or in New York - I suggest that you check them out. Even if what the Globe says about independent booksellers in the current economy is accurate, it still wouldn't hurt to give these valuable community institutions a little extra support. AMDG.


At 4/03/2009 10:40 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Something I'll bet the local chain would not do - while I was on the Long Retreat, I asked the local independent children's bookstore to pick and send my kids a book a week as a surprise (my kids are inveterate readers)! Their favorite advisor there enjoyed digging out new things for them and they adored getting something in the mail from me while I was gone.

It's their favorite store, where someone knows what they enjoy, and can help them find more of it.

An independent bookstore is more than books!

At 4/04/2009 2:56 PM, Blogger Laura Brown said...

That is good news. I think that in a shrinking economy it's going to be the most devoted readers who keep buying books, and such people are more likely to favour independent stores over a chain. There's nothing like going to a bookshop run by people who love books as much as you do.


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