Now is the time

As I walked through JFK Airport the other day, the bold “Store Closing” sign at Borders was another reminder that what has been long feared in the book industry is now taking place. Hundreds more bookstores are closing. Hundreds more U.S. communities will soon be without a bookstore.

Borders closing remaining bookstores

While the large-box model has proven to be unsustainable for some retailers, we are not returning to the days before big-box growth. It’s different now. Borders, with its aggressive promises to shareholders, set up shop in many communities that already had successful independent bookstores. With deep pockets, the corporate stores were known to enter a desirable market and offer deep discounts to push the single “Mom & Pop” operations out. They did so successfully.

Now, with Borders in the process of closing its remaining stores, there are often no independent bookstores left to serve those communities. Chris Smith, a columnist for The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, California asked in his July 7, 2011 article, “Is it a town without a bookstore?” The worst-case scenario he posed was, “We all shop online at home, get great deals and avoid paying sales tax, then walk through our lifeless downtowns with wired plugs blocking our ears.”

Having managed a large-scale indie bookstore, my sense is that most of the Borders stores were selling at least $5 million to $10 million a year. For independent bookstores, there’s a profitable model at just $750,000 to $1 million in annual sales in much smaller spaces. With no shareholders to satisfy and large corporate staff to support, an owner of an independent bookstore in a former Borders market has the opportunity to win the hearts of citizens, achieve healthy sales, and enjoy a meaningful career in the bookstore business.

Never before have I seen such ideal timing to open a community-based bookstore. With ‘Buy Local’ campaigns growing stronger, authors enjoying more media time, Borders stores closing, and banks once again lending at low rates, now is the time for locally-owned bookstores to re-emerge as focal points within their communities.