It Looks Like a Hard Winter for Bookstores

It was global news in the book world. The owner of the venerable Strand Bookstore in New York City recently made an emergency plea for the store. Revenue was down 70 percent. Since then, nearly 25,000 orders flooded in approaching $200,000 in sales, crashing the website (although that is only $8 an order if correct).

If my friends at Bob on Books on Facebook are any indication, there is trouble ahead if the pandemic continues. Bottom line: out of 133 comments on a recent question about this, only 5 people indicated they were comfortable going to bookstores on a regular basis (usually where masking was strictly enforced). One person who worked in a bookstore reported a steep drop in customers, but those who came in bought more and puzzles and games were especially popular.

Some are doing curbside pickups. But this takes away the browsing experience and those serendipitous discoveries that you can only make when browsing. We made two trips to our local Half Price Books about six weeks ago, sold a lot of books and bought some. Then infection rates in Ohio nearly tripled. Hanging out waiting for books to be priced somehow doesn’t seem as safe.

A lot of people are obtaining their books through libraries, either by reserving books or downloading digital books. I wouldn’t be surprised if e-book sales have surged because many are buying books online this way. Or they are ordering from online sellers, mainly Amazon or Thriftbooks for used, or a handful of other online sellers. A very small number ordered from local bookstores or online services connected to local stores like bookshop.org.

Then there are the people who came prepared for the pandemic. They have TBR piles that will see them through a year or more of not bookbuying. If this group of booklovers is at all representative of the book buying public, then bookstores are in trouble.

I fear it will only get worse as the rates of infection rise in the U.S. It appears to me that many of us have imposed our own lockdowns–we don’t need a government to do it for us. We really would love to spend time browsing our favorite stores, if they are open. But we really don’t want to update our wills for a bookstore hop. Many indie stores are smaller, cozy affairs. In ordinary times that is inviting. Now it feels kind of dangerous.

It is nothing short of miraculous if your favorite bookseller is not hurting or in danger of going out of business. Like the Strand, Shakespeare and Co. in Paris, facing new lockdowns and an 80% drop in sales has put out a similar plea for online orders. The big, famous stores can do this. Your local indie may not have the same media clout. But their situation is the same or worse, if news stories and personal accounts are any indication.

If you are able, now is a good time to plan your winter reading, stock up on the new releases and old standbys that you have wanted to read. It’s not too early to shop for books to send to friends for Christmas. Maybe you can set up a virtual book club for the winter months with some friends and all order your books from the same store. The point? Amazon is fine and will be around when this is all over. But what about your beloved store?

Maybe one of the best ways to get your mind off your own survival over the next months is to think about how you can help your favorite store survive. Maybe you can talk them up as the place where you get the books you love. Post about them on your social media (as I do about my favorite store on this blog). Or give a gift card or certificate to friends for Christmas, providing the store an immediate cash infusion. You might also give the store some new customers. You might even send the store owner a holiday card with a little something extra stashed inside.

The day will come when we can resume all the normal things we did before the pandemic. When the day comes when we feel safe visiting our favorite stores again (and I know we define “safe” differently), will their doors be open or will we encounter an “out of business” sign or an empty storefront? It’s up to us.

Are Bookstores an Essential Business?

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Photo by Tuur Tisseghem on Pexels.com

The coronavirus has changed the landscape of bookselling. At a time when indie bookstores have been growing in popularity and Barnes & Noble is trying to reinvent itself, bookselling is suddenly in a precarious position. In my state, as many others, we have “stay-at-home” mandates in place that also only allow essential businesses and services to remain open. Grocery and hardware stores, gas stations, repair shops, as well as critical medical facilities, utilities, first responders, and repair services like plumbers continue to work, but must practice infection control and social distancing measures.

From what I can tell, all our bookstores are closed. Some tried to arrange curbside pick up services, but most, other than Barnes and Noble for online orders, have eliminated this. As with other businesses, it has led to the layoff of bookstore personnel, and if this goes very long, could sink many operations.

In some places, bookstores are raising the question of whether they might be considered an essential business. For some bibliophiles, this is a no-brainer. Of course, they would say! Sure, there are some of us who are well prepared to wait this out with high TBR piles and books squirreled away in every room of the house. We may need toilet paper, but not books, and in a pinch…

But seriously, an extended stay at home poses the challenge of how we spend the time. Many have observed the precedent of Boccaccio’s Decameron, in which a group of friends (who can afford it) flee to the country and tell each other stories. I suppose with online tools, we might pass the time similarly. But for many who aren’t into endless video, books may be a critical essential for filling at least some of those hours. With libraries also closed, some readers may run out of books.

From a public health point of view, and in the eyes of many who don’t have the luxury of buying books in any season, this may be the frivolous complaint of the elite, or even a dangerous practice if it results in additional spread of infection. Justifying bookstores would probably support the argument that a variety of other businesses might be justified in staying open.

So, while I don’t think it is essential to keep bookstores open, I think it is essential to keep them alive. They serve as an important “third place” in normal times, they play a critical role in helping authors get the word out about their books, they offer whole families the chance to have books of their own, from children to young adults to moms and dads to grandparents. They are an important lifeline for our publishing industry. And there is a serendipity of browsing the shelves that online shopping can never duplicate. So, what can be done? Here are a few ideas:

  • Many stores still allow you to do phone and/or online orders. Some are waiving shipping. It might be easier to order them online (although Amazon has had to limit its book business for more “essentials”). Figure out the bookstore you love and buy from them. Yet also realize, for many stores, this alone will not be enough.
  • Buy audiobooks from them as well through Libro.Fm. If they are a partner, they can get a cut. At indiebound.org you can find similar options for buying e-books. One caveat is that these won’t work on your Kindle.
  • You can also buy gift cards from the store to use yourself or give away. This gives the store an immediate cash infusion and you a nice gift for friends (and hopefully, new customers for the store).
  • Some stores have turned to online funding tools like GoFundMe to raise needed funds to stay alive. Literati Bookstore, in Ann Arbor, a store which has received national recognition, is faced with the challenge of having enough funds to re-open. They set a goal of raising $100,000 through a GoFundMe campaign, and exceeded it in two days time. Do you love your bookstore? You might consider doing this, or even organizing a campaign for them.

In the U.S., it appears many of us will be receiving checks from Uncle Sam. Some who are unemployed desperately need these funds. But for some of us, this is a bonus. As you think of how you use this, if you are a bibliophile, you might think of how you might help your favorite bookseller. There are a number of critical needs of course, including many who were on the edge even before all this. There are other businesses we want to see survive as well. But as readers, we are the people who care for and know the value of bookstores better than any. This is the time to act, as we are able, on what we know.

Time to Support Your Indie Bookstore

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Hearts and Minds Bookstore, from their Facebook page

In the past week, there have been massive closures–schools, restaurants, libraries, and even bookstores. Even if stores are open, many are not visiting as part of their efforts to physically distance themselves from infection.

Hundreds of indies around the country have closed either voluntarily or by government mandate. During this time, their only source of revenue are online orders (some stores can also offer in-store or even curbside pickups).

As it turns out, the demands on Amazon for essential supplies of medical and household goods have resulted in them deciding not to sell “non-essential” items like books, other than current stock, at least for a time.

Of course, books to a healthy bibliophile are not a “non-essential.” It could even be argued that they are an essential to health when we are basically “sheltering in place.”

This is one of those instances where our need to read and our favorite bookstore’s need for revenue converge. Most provide for online ordering. Many even answer the phone without any phone tree to go through. You can make a human connection amid physical distancing! That in itself is worth any extra cost.

One of my favorite indies is Hearts and Minds Bookstore in Dallastown, Pennsylvania, a small town in east central Pennsylvania. I have never actually been there and it is on my bucket list of places to visit. I read (and review) a good deal of religion and theological books in the Christian tradition, and Hearts and Minds is my “go to” bookseller. The store focuses on thoughtful books (hence their name) that connect Christian faith with every aspect of life, as well as other quality literature. Their selection of books and my interests align really well. They’ve been able to send me anything I ask for, always carefully packaged, arriving in perfect condition. They do a regular review of new books called “BookNotes,” and always offer a 20% discount on any book featured

I mentioned wanting to visit. Right now, I cannot. They have been closed by the state. I want to see them around when this emergency is over. For indie bookstores, this is not a given. Even when they run in the black, it is often by a precariously thin margin. I saw a new work in BookNotes I am interested in. After I finish this post, I’m going to go online and purchase it.

What if everyone did this with their favorite indie in the next week? And when you finish what you’ve purchased, do it again. It might just help them hang on.

But I read e-books or listen to audiobooks, you say. It turns out that that through IndieBound, which connects a community of indie bookstores, you can order e-books and audiobooks through many indie stores, and possibly yours. I realize you also have a selection of these at many libraries who are also only doing digital lending at this time.

As we have means, it makes sense during this time to ask what businesses matter to us that we want to support, including bookstores. Many of us are still adjusting to this state of affairs. Hopefully in the next few months, this thing will end. Will our favorite businesses, including the bookstores who sell what we like to read, still be there when we can get out and about again? It’s really up to us.

Airport Bookstores

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Renaissance Books Used Book Store location in General Mitchell International Airport; Milwaukee, WI. Photo by Captison [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been writing about books and bookstores for over five years, and I have to confess that until the other day, I’d never thought about writing about bookstores in airports. It’s not for lack of experience in airports during that time.

This crossed my radar in the form of an article about W.H. Smith opening its largest The Bookshop at Gathwick Airport in the UK. The company won a British Book Awards “Book Retailer of the Year” for 2019. The store sells everything from mass market best sellers to children’s books and features destination country books on their “Read Around the World Shelves.”

I started thinking about this and asked the Bob on Books gang over at Facebook about their experiences at airport bookstores. First of all, there are a number like me who come prepared to the airport with their own books, including having loaded some on their e-readers, which save weight when you travel. One person observed, “I figure if I have time to browse an airport bookstore, I have time to browse the Kindle store on my tablet.” Others remarked that airport bookstores are over-priced (like most things at airports) and mainly seem to have the mass-market best-sellers (which often aren’t bad airport or plane reads). One exception I found on my travels was Book People’s store in the Austin-Bergstrom airport in Austin near Gate 20, a reflection of the cool place the main Book People store is.

Others have had some great experiences. Some airports apparently have stores where you can purchase and return books for a discount on other books. Sky Harbor in Phoenix Airport is reported to have a store that does this. Some have found some great books in these stores: The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Dovekeepers, Gunslinger Dark Tower: Book One, Salt and Cod by Mark Kurlansky, The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium – An Englishman’s World by Danny Danziger and Robert Lacey. Another wrote: “I found a book on heroes from WWII who saved many from the Holocaust at a bookstore in Brussels recently. They had separate sections for books in English, French and Flemish.”

I heard from three different people about a great store at the Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee. Renaissance Books, located in the main terminal, features an extensive selection of used books as well as new, packed into 1,000 square feet, so like some classic used book stores, things can be stacked up. There is literary fiction, non-fiction, and even some antiquarian books near the checkout counter. One customer on Yelp wrote about spotting a whole shelf on Churchill. I’ll have to try to schedule a flight through here just to check it out!

The major bookseller in the US market is Hudsons, which may be found in many of the major airports, sometimes in multiple locations in different terminals, three for example in the Seattle-Tacoma airport. Hudsons also has a healthy online site, including downloads of audio books in Libro.FM. My sense is that Hudson’s tries for a wide selection of books for different audiences, focusing on the more popular in each topic area, as well as current bestsellers. For someone with a long layover or stranded due to delayed flights, this can be a lifesaver, if you haven’t come prepared.

Most of us don’t go the airport to buy books (except maybe in Milwaukee), but most of us who love books sooner or later wander into one of these stores. I’d love to hear about your experiences, particularly if you’ve found a really good store!

Memo: To the New CEO of Barnes & Noble

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Shawn Rossi, “Barnes & Noble” [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

Last week, Elliott Management agreed to buy Barnes & Noble for $683 million. Elliott owns Waterstones in the UK, with James Daunt as its CEO. He would become CEO of Barnes & Noble. Many hailed this move because under Daunt, Waterstone’s has experienced a significant turnaround, and Daunt came up through the ranks as a bookseller and has spoken about reclaiming the “honourable profession” of bookselling. The picture became a bit murkier when Readerlink announced that it is pursuing a counteroffer to that of Elliott Management. Readerlink supplies books to retail outlets like Walmart and Target. If deeds done may predict the future, I think most booklovers would appreciate the approach of Daunt and Elliott Management to Readerlink. Many think Barnes & Noble has already suffered as it has been “Walmart-ized.”

I asked the question at my Bob on Books Facebook page of what advice my followers would give the new CEO at Barnes & Noble, either Daunt or someone else. The page has a number of dedicated readers, and they gave a dedicated response. Here are some of the areas they commented on:

The “vibe” of the store: People like the comfortable atmosphere, want to keep the coffee shop, and would like stores to offer more comfortable seating.

The bookseller: This was one of the most significant areas where a number noted decline. In earlier years, people found the booksellers interesting to talk to and knowledgeable. Some noted that in recent years, the booksellers have been replaced by fewer, and more part-time people, still trying to be helpful and polite, but under more pressure. Hopefully the new CEO will realize that the greatest asset in these stores that set them apart from online sellers is the bookseller and allocate funds accordingly. What makes every successful indie successful are booksellers who love books, and cater to readers who love and want to buy books.

Selection:  Readers lamented the declines they’ve seen in the selection of books, particularly in the area of fiction. One reader offered this example: “The fiction selection there is horrible now. For example, if you’re looking for Herman Melville, you’ll get several editions of Moby Dick, but no Typee, Billy Budd, etc.” Another reader said, “In short, try to appeal to a more discerning crowd instead of all the formulaic, mainstream crap.” Some would like more international periodicals and newspapers as well. Several readers made the point one reader made succinctly: “More books, less toys.” (However one reader pointed out that educators find the toys and games section an important part of the shopping experience.) One reader suggested QR codes on shelves to link readers to the Barnes & Noble website for other books by an author, or similar books, a feature that might discourage them from “showrooming” with that online retailer.

Price: Most readers are aware of how retail sales of new books are critical to supporting authors. However price is an issue, especially for those who read many books. At $30 or more for a hardcover, new books are out of reach for some, who choose the library or second-hand stores and charity sales instead. But people don’t want Barnes & Noble to become a Walmart of books: low prices on a limited, mainstream selection. One wonders if a discount could be scaled to the number of books or amount spent by a customer a year.

Promotions and partnerships: People would like to see promotions to bring people into the store, whether a free beverage each month or occasional BIG booksales to draw in the community. Other readers suggest partnerships with schools and libraries, particularly in communities distant from a Barnes & Noble store (in many cases from any bookstore).

I was surprised by how many people love their Barnes & Noble store (I do too). They want to keep them open and see them do better. My sense is that they want to encounter a store run by passionate booklovers for booklovers, a store with an interesting and diverse selection, and one where the feeling is, “make yourself comfortable and stay awhile.” Is that so hard?

 

 

Bookstore Review: Readers Garden Book Store – Granville, Ohio

20190510_1350356631939530457335533.jpgGranville, Ohio is a college town about 35 miles east of Columbus and 9 miles north of Interstate 70.  Denison University sits on a hill above one of the most charming main streets in America (East and West Broadway). A mix of restaurants, boutiques, the village hall, a couple of historic inns, and hundred year-old church buildings line the street. Wide sidewalks allow for outdoor dining during warm weather. All in all, it makes for a delightful destination for an overnight getaway, a day trip, or a break for travelers on the Interstate.

One of the gems of Granville is the Readers Garden Book Store, located next to the Village Hall at 143 E. Broadway. I had a chance to visit for the first time on Friday and had the opportunity to meet both the former and current owners of the store. Jo-Anne Geiger started the store twenty-one years ago when a previous book store across the street closed. We talked about how the store survived twenty-one years in a small town when many others have failed, and her answer was one heard again and again from indie booksellers. It came down to knowing the interests of residents and serving customers well and creating a friendly atmosphere. Jo-Anne recently re-married after losing her first husband several years ago, and started thinking it was time to sell this flourishing store to allow for more time for travel and other aspirations.

Last November, current owner Kim Keethler Ball, with past experiences both in ministry and retail, began working at the store. It was love at first sight, and when Jo-Anne mentioned plans to sell the store, Kim and her family began talking. Her son’s finance background came in handy in putting together a business plan. On April 1 ownership transferred to Kim, with Jo-Anne staying on to help with transition.

When I stepped into the store, my first impression was that this was a small space. Sometimes this translates into a thin selection of books focused around best-sellers. As soon as I began to walk around the store, I discovered that a combination of little alcoves, each dedicated to different types of literature, and intelligent curation offered a store where I found much of interest, and realized there was a selection to appeal to every age group from children to seniors, and a diversity of interests and identities.

20190512_2001514199452670141360062.jpgInside the entrance, I was met by a display of graphic novels headed with a drawing by a local artist of Edgar Allan Poe with a sock puppet raven. To the right is a section with current best-sellers along with books by and about persons of color, international authors, LGBT authors, feminist authors, and a section with an extensive selection of poetry, popular I understand with students.

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Children’s area

Walking toward the back of the store is an ample section devoted to Young Adult readers. At the back right corner of the store is a delightful children’s alcove with a selection of classic and contemporary children’s books, and a play area featuring a table with wood toys that I understand were once part of the Ball household. Kim mentioned wanting children to feel welcome, and to provide a safe, interesting place where they can look and play while parents shop nearby. Books for older children are placed next to this section.

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History and biographies

Moving over to the left rear of the store, the back wall features biographies and history, and then transitions around the corner with literary and contemporary fiction. There are also shelves devoted to special interests from science to gardening to cooking and art. In the center of the store was a small but thoughtful selection of religious titles. While the focus is on books, one can find a selection of gift items, prints, stationary, and games, tastefully displayed throughout the store.

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Literary fiction

The selection of books in the store represents a combination of new books and high quality consignments from about twenty different individuals. One of these includes a number of signed first editions of literary fiction works. Another focused around a selection of major poets. Everything was in good condition and a number of works either had mylar sleeves protecting dust jackets or slip covers. Consignments have yellow circular stickers on the spine with the consignor’s initials.

I was in the store on a Friday afternoon and I observed a steady stream of people coming in, most buying books. I overheard staff offering to order items that were not in stock. It was apparent that many came into the store regularly and were known to the staff. I also heard about a family new to the area with children who enjoyed the children’s area while the parents made a sizable book purchase, reminding me of many past bookstore visits where we all came away with books according to our interests. This is that kind of store.

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Recommendations by booksellers are sprinkled through the store, this by Rebekah.

Kim has put her own touch on the store from the literary quotes above the shelves to new categories of books, and the window and store displays. Book signings and readings are scheduled on a regular basis and the store participates in the Chamber of Commerce-sponsored monthly Art Walks.

Like the Tardis, this is a store that is bigger on the inside than on the outside. So much of this has to do with the combination of customer service and a well-curated selection of books for every age group and interest. This is a well-tended garden for readers, indeed!

About:

Address: 143  E Broadway, Granville, Ohio 43023

Phone: (740) 587-7744

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m to 6 p.m., Sunday 12-5 p.m.

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/readersgarden/

Website: https://readers-garden-book-store.business.site/

“Showrooming” at Bookstores

Showrooming

This tweet went viral recently.

Fountain Bookstore is an independent bookstore in Richmond, Virginia. I’ve never visited the store, but from their web page, it looks like a place I would love: author appearances, staff picks, a robust children’s section, indie published books, even a way to buy audiobooks through the store, where the store gets a piece of the action. It looks to me like the booksellers have worked hard to create a great customer experience in a well-curated store.

Apparently they have fallen victim to a common practice in brick and mortar businesses. People find a book they are interested in, pull out their phone, and price shop on Amazon. Sometimes, they even buy on Amazon while standing in the store. Sometimes they even use the store’s free wi-fi to make their purchases. According to a WTVR story some people were bragging in front of booksellers: “They were looking up things and saying, ‘Amazon wins again, Amazon wins again, Amazon wins again’ ”

In addition to being incredibly insulting and rude (where is Miss Manners when we need her), it strikes me as being utterly oblivious to the wonder of indie booksellers that might be easily lost:

  • A bookstore in your community. A place to spend an afternoon or part of an evening.
  • Personalized service by knowledgeable booksellers, who over time get to know their customers.
  • A place shaped around your community–from local issues to local history and local authors.
  • A host for book groups and a resource for their discussions.
  • A local employer that spends money in your community and pays local taxes.
  • Part of that magic mix of shops and stores that turn places where we live into great places.

If you like the store’s vibe, do you want them to be around in five years? Ten years? The only way it happens is if you buy from them. And, when you buy local, you walk out with the book in your hands! No waiting for deliveries or risking them being stolen.

I get the impulse to save a few bucks. What I would suggest is that paying a bit more for the intangibles that enrich our lives in the real places we live might be the real bargain. Maybe buying less stuff but buying it local helps us both live with better economic boundaries, and live in a real network of economic relationships rather than one mediated by screens.

Here’s a thought. If you are going to pull out a phone in the store because you want to make a good purchase, don’t use it to find the cheapest price for the book, but rather to check out the reviews on the book, at Amazon, at Goodreads (now owned by Amazon), as well as other published reviews. (I kind of like using the online booksellers’ internet infrastructure to support local booksellers!). That can help you figure out whether the book is worth shelling out whatever price is being asked. At most, it will be a few dollars more, and many indie booksellers have some kind of discount program for regular customers.

Or better yet, just ask the bookseller about the book. Talk with them about your reading interests and whether they think you’d like the book. Or could they recommend something better? Their business is built on you finding books you like and trusting their recommendations. By talking with them, they get to know you. I’ve known some booksellers who call their customers when something new comes in they think they’d like. Sure, Amazon has algorithms and emails that do something similar. Personally, I like the human touch…

Farewell to an Old Friend

Village Bookshop.jpgI visited the Village Bookshop the other day. It has been one of my favorite haunts during the 28 years we’ve lived on the northwest side of Columbus. Located within ten minutes of our home at 2432 Dublin Granville Rd in an old, white-sided church building, this has been one of my favorite bookstores. For nearly 50 years, the Village Bookshop, which occupies the old Linworth Methodist Church building, has served locals and visiting bookbuyers alike. I picked up my Dumas Malone’s five volume biography of Jefferson here many years ago. Recently, I read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, John Steinbeck’s Cannery Road, and C.S. Lewis’s The Personal Heresy. All of them came from  the Village Bookshop.

And now it is closing.

Owner Gary Friedlinghaus and his wife Carol, who took over the store 37 years ago, told the Columbus Dispatchthat changes in the public’s book-buying habits and a declining supplier base has made the decision necessary. He describes his decision as a “judicious retreat.”

There was no place quite like it. At one time, the store had an inventory of as many as four million books, nearly all new, and apart from some old and rare books, discounted 60 to 90 percent. The store was known for its selection of military prints and books. As a bit of a Civil War buff, I found more than a few good books there, as well as many other finds in their history section. They had a great selection of paperback classics, many for under $4, often older versions of Oxford Classics. My latest acquisition in this section was Faulkner’s The Reivers. The biographies table toward the front of the store was always a stop, as was a featured selection of books toward the middle of the store. I often stopped at the religion section just to the left of the featured books and before the passage to the back annex. Just through that passage was a four-sided set of shelves with books under $2, mostly old paperbacks. I made a few finds here over the years! Fiction occupied most of the back of the store on the ground floor. On my most recent visit, I picked up novels by Chaim Potok and Sharon Kay Penman that I haven’t read.

The upstairs was a world to itself, in the back annex of the building. One half seemed to be overflow from downstairs–more history, sociology, and fiction, including science fiction and fantasy. The other half was old books. Some were plainly there on consignment. On a recent visit, I happened into the fiction section when a customer was loading up an old set of Sir Walter Scott novels. A part of me wished I’d gotten there first (but where would I put them?).

Lori, daughter of the owner indicated that the building might be preserved and occupied by a different kind of business instead of being converted to apartments, like much of the area across the street. It is a historic building, built in 1887, for what was then Bright’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church. One hopes this will be the case.

The store will close its doors for the last time on August 31. When we were there, books were being discounted 20 percent off their already discounted prices. You could see the shelves were thinned a bit, but there was still a great selection of books. I might be back another time or two–but maybe not, and so it was time for this tribute of sorts.

Earlier this year, another favorite haunt, Acorn Books in Grandview closed. It is hard to see these independents going. It is sobering to realize that the number of those like me who not only love books, but the serendipitous fun of finding something you weren’t looking for on the shelves of a bookstore, seems to be dwindling. Book culture seems to be in the process of being stripped down to searching for the book we want online, ordering or downloading it, and reading and deleting it, if we read at all. For the sake of speed and convenience, we are sacrificing a richly textured culture with unique places like Village Bookshop to homogenized chains and online sites–and not only with regard to books. Will we wake up one day to realize that our local towns and villages have become banal and boring places–just like everywhere else? Or will it matter?

 

Bookshop Chalkboards

Chalkboard from Gramercy Books, Bexley, Ohio, April 2017

The March 21, 2018 issue of Shelf Awareness includes a short article with picture of a Bookshop Chalkboard of the Day. I hadn’t really paid attention to this aspect of bookselling before but it caught my attention.

One sees these chalkboards in many establishments from restaurants and brew pubs to coffeeshops. Perhaps a common element is that all these are “third place” gathering places and the signs create the vibe that this is a unique space, friendly, one-of-a-kind that is never the same from one day or week to the next. The signs post menus, the current craft beer on tap, upcoming events, or just a fun or thought-provoking saying. Actually the goal is to provoke interest in the business. In a high-tech world, this is low tech–and something you might have seen in a store a hundred years ago.

One thing all these signs seem to have in common–lettering skills, embellishments, and color. As far as I know, there is no vendor who makes these up. There must be a lot of local talent. I found this article with “10 Chalkboard Tips and Tricks” if you are curious how this is done. Some people do decorates their homes with at least one chalkboard. This site has ideas, and a Pinterest board of examples for businesses.

Of course, the big idea in bookselling is to know and serve your customers in an inviting environment. Chalkboards would not seem crucial. But they can be a fun and ever changing touch.

I’d love to see other examples of creative bookshop chalkboards!

Bookstore Review: The Bookstore at University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary

For over twenty years, I have been coming to the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary for national conferences of the collegiate ministry with which I work. The campus is in a wooded setting on a lake in the northern suburbs of Chicago with gorgeous buildings that are a combination of Renaissance Roman and American Colonial Revival architecture. I’ve enjoyed many walks, leisurely conversations with colleagues, and rich learning experiences.

This year, I discovered one more reason to look forward to visiting. They have a new Bookstore. I learned that there had always been a bookstore in the basement of an academic building, primarily used by seminarians. Over the last couple years, the campus has completed a major renovation of its’ Refectory, renaming it Mundelein Hall after the Chicago archbishop responsible for the development of the university. Just to the left of the new front entrance, occupying one corner of the building is the new bookstore.

The store is tailored to serve the seminarians preparing for the Roman Catholic priesthood and students in other programs, prospective students, and other guests and retreatants to the campus. Unlike some religious bookstores, I found an extensive selection of works on theology, catechesis (instruction in the faith), church history, biblical studies philosophy, Christian classics, social justice, liturgy, pastoral care, and spiritual formation. Many are from a Catholic perspective, where much fine scholarship and writing is being done and that one might not come across elsewhere. There is also an extensive selection of texts in Spanish.

Like other college bookstores there are a variety of gift items including mugs, clothing, bags, and other items with the college logo. There is also a small selection of musical CDs and devotional items and what I understand is a favored blend of coffee that the students enjoy.

At this point, the store online provides online ordering of textbooks for seminarians, often paid for through vouchers from their sending diocese. The store mentioned they were working on online capabilities for other customers, so check back.

The Bookstore’s current hours and contact information are:

Monday – Friday: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Sunday: Closed

For more information, call 847-970-4901

Since the store is located on the campus grounds, outside visitors should observe speed limits on campus roads, park in designated areas, and respect the atmosphere of quiet and reflection on campus.