Last week during BookExpo America, which was held in Chicago this year, we took a retail field trip to visit five Paz workshop grads who have recently opened or purchased existing bookstores. What a delightful way to spend the afternoon.

RoscoeBooks is a purely delightful neighborhood bookstore you want to visit because it feels so good to be there.

RoscoeBooks is a purely delightful neighborhood bookstore you want to visit because it feels so good to be there.

RoscoeBooks has been in business for two years and is surpassing financial projections. Owner Erika Van Dam sensed her neighborhood wanted a real indie bookstore, and, she was right. As soon as you enter the space, you know this store is staffed with people who love books because the very first bookcase is filled with staff recommendations. Travel throughout the store and you find staff recommendations everywhere. No matter your age, the children’s department is such a draw with its colorful mural. At 2142 W. Roscoe Street, RoscoeBooks is the center of the neighborhood with a friendly space loaded with delightful reads.

These chairs at City Lit Books invite you to sit and relax.

These chairs at City Lit Books invite you to sit and relax.

City Lit Books is a few short blocks from the Logan Square train stop and in the center of a most desirable Chicago neighborhood. Residents can walk to a poetry open mic night, author event, or simply to sit in the comfy chairs by the fireplace and pick out some new books to read. We love to see staff recommendations, meet booksellers who are authors themselves, and especially love seeing displays of customer recommendations. Teresa Kirschbraun has created a community hub for readers and writers, poets and dreamers of all ages.

Esther preps for a special event at Read It & Eat.

Esther preps for a special event at Read It & Eat.

We couldn’t wait to see Esther Dairiam’s Read It & Eat, a culinary bookstore with a full kitchen for hosting amazing food-centric events. Esther did a fabulous job choosing colors and finishes to dress up the historic space at 2142 N. Halsted Street. The air was filled with a delicious aroma as Esther was prepping for the next day’s special event. We browsed the selection of books … everything you’d ever want to know about food for home cooks and restaurant professionals.

Portraits of famous authors were drawn by an artist on staff at the iconic Women & Children First Bookstore.

Portraits of famous authors were drawn by an artist on staff at the iconic Women & Children First Bookstore.

The iconic bookstore Women & Children First was purchased by employees Sarah Hollenbeck and Lynn Mooney last year and they have been busy making their own mark. The whole store has gotten a fresh coat of paint, the children’s department has come to life with a new carpet and colors, and we loved the series of hand-drawn portraits of visiting authors that were created by a talented artist on staff. We applaud Sarah and Lynn for stepping forward to keep this store alive and well into the future and are thrilled that this next chapter in their lives includes owning a beloved business. You’ll find them at 5233 N. Clark Street … remember to check the events schedule if you’ll be in town since they often host the major authors on tour.

Hardcover bindings cover a focal point wall at Volumes BookCafe.

Hardcover bindings cover a focal point wall at Volumes BookCafe.

Our last stop was Volumes BookCafe at 1474 N. Milwaukee Avenue. Sisters Kimberly and Rebecca George have created an invigorating bookstore that invites you to order a glass of wine as you shop and leave with a great cup of coffee once you’ve found your next great read. We loved the delightful touches in the store … book art created with used book pages and covers. In the kids area, a small family could snuggle up in the seating area and read together.

Travel Chicago and it’s easy to see there is no shortage of creativity when it comes to developing an indie bookstore. Bravo, new bookstore owners! Your neighborhoods and communities have very special places to gather because of your bookstores!

Yesterday’s news was filled with stories about shopping during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The Nightly Business Report examined the results in context of industry trends due to technology and customer expectations.

NBR used the term “blurring” to describe why Black Friday has become more cyber and Cyber Monday has become more physical. First, many consumers are beginning their holiday shopping earlier, this year by November 10, due to promotions and discounting. So Black Friday is just more of the same promotions, less compelling. Cyber Monday has become less important because people no longer need to wait to get to work for access to high-speed internet. They’re buying online any time.

Going into a bookstore, what a great way to get into the holiday spirit.

Going into a bookstore, what a great way to get into the holiday spirit.

With technology supporting the ease of online shopping, what is the future of indie retail? It’s all about the experience.

These elements that create a memorable experience become not just more important, but essential:

Store design that makes you feel good, a space that is uplifting

Displays that are irresistible and offer delightful discovery

Selection that is manageable, interesting, and exudes quality

Fully present and genuinely helpful assistance

And when it comes to gifts, the complementary gift wrapping can be the simple, obvious amenity that seals the deal … the extra something that is beautiful, makes things easy, and is offered in the spirit of joy and shared delight.

Then, add Cider Monday (thanks to bookseller Willard Williams of The Toadstool Bookshops) and the Indies First promotion on Small Business Saturday (thanks to the American Booksellers Association) and the experience just got more rich and personal.

When corporate retailers will continue to blur the shopping experience by deluging the marketplace with special offers, let’s focus on the importance of creating a special experience. The authenticity of the personal and in-peerson has tangible value in a world immersed in faster, cheaper “stuff”.

After spending three very full days with Jeff Kinney’s crew to prepare for the opening of An Unlikely Story, a bookstore cafe in Jeff’s hometown of Plainville, Mass., we toured the store together to admire the work that had been accomplished and learn more about the inventory selection.

What evolved was a beautiful conversation about why we so love to spend time in bookstores.

Mealtime fun! Many of these items came from Fred & Friends, "Airfork One", "Dinner Winner", and "Mealtime Masterpiece" paper placemats were some of our favorite picks.

Mealtime fun! Many of these items in Jeff Kinney’s new bookstore cafe came from Fred & Friends, “Airfork One”, “Dinner Winner”, and “Mealtime Masterpiece” paper placemats were some of our favorite picks.

Early on, when we began developing the non-book inventory, Jeff asked us to look for items that represented: “quality, imaginative, unique, not overly expensive, not pretentious.”

We watched price points (staying under $20) and looked beyond the typical items carried in the bookstore. Thinking about the people who live in the Plainville area, we searched for items that provided for “Family Fun” and items kids could purchase with their allowance money.

The goal is to make customers smile.

Birthday party items on display in the "Family Fun" section at An Unlikely Story

Birthday party items on display in the “Family Fun” section at An Unlikely Story.

Fun and weird books were put on display (otherwise found in the depths of the “Reference” section). Brightly colored journals (“Little Book of Awesome” and “Thoughts & Doodles”) prompt us to plunge into the creative side. Retro bicycle bells and “Mr. Bill” dolls went onto the Father’s Day display table. Colorful socks with amazing graphics filled an entire endcap at the far turn of the traffic path. And a whole side panel was devoted to birthday party fun.

When Jeff and his family came into the store to see how we were coming, our best initial feedback came when we overheard the boys say, “Wow!” and “Cool, look at this!”

As the team gathered to talk about the next step – officially opening the doors – we discussed what it really is that we want to accomplish. We agreed it’s about how we make people feel when they are in the bookstore.

It’s a wonderful topic! And, you’ll see magazines pose the question to authors and celebrities, but it’s also a perfect question for bookstores to ask their customers … and to use on shelf-talkers around the store.

Once you get on in age you realize: there simply is not enough time in life to read (or re-read) everything you want to read. You stop trying to get through the book you are not enjoying. You don’t read a book just because a friend told you “it’s good”.

We want to find people who appreciate the same kinds of books we love. So now we know that the Amazon reviews are rigged and laden with paid placement. There are so many more books and many more reviews per book, but who do you trust?

Shelf-talkers are often written only by staff, but there are a number of local experts who could be helping shape your section ... and engage customers

Shelf-talkers are often written only by staff, but there are a number of local experts who could be helping shape your section … and engage customers

This is the #1 opportunity for any independent bookseller. The challenge is, how do you keep up with all of the books being published? The major publishers crank out hundreds of thousands each year and now with independent publishing so easy everyone who wants to write a book is or has, finding something good to read is more and more difficult.

So why not take the online reviews strategies into the bookstore? Some stores have featured reviews by select customers, but not nearly enough stores do this and with not nearly enough customers to create buzz and interaction among customers.

Imagine seeing book displays and shelf-talkers with quotes from your:

  • school principal on the best books on helping children succeed in reading and in life
  • master gardener on choosing the right plant for your region
  • physician on the best books for weight loss and controlling diabetes
  • respected pastors with books that helped them deal with loss, disappointment, divorce
  • wedding planner for the best tips on personalizing that special occasion
  • chef or restaurant owner on what cookbooks they use at home
  • book group member who also is a fan of fun mysteries
  • teacher who loves history

All communities have people who are specialists on some topic. Why don’t we engage these folks? They’ll not only refer people to the bookstore, but they’ll feel honored you asked. People will mention those reviews on shelf-talkers and the store name will be spoken throughout the community.

People find reviews helpful. Let’s use them, give them credibility, and tap local experts and local readers. Imagine having personal recommendations throughout the store in each and every section … now that is a rich and meaningful stop at the bookstore and no  one would ever leave without several ideas of what to read next.

 

We just arrived home from an on-site visit in a community that once had a Barnes & Noble bookstore. When the lease was up for renewal, B&N decided to exit the market, leaving millions of dollars of annual sales to customers up for grabs. In this case, our client, Thorne Donnelley of Liberty Bookstore, is in the midst of expanding his bookstore and revving up marketing to capture this gap in the local book market. Yet, what about all of those other communities now without a bookstore?

Libery Bookstore

Thorne Donnelley seizes the opportunity to capture the West Palm Beach, Florida market now that B&N is gone.

While there are people opening bookstores, there aren’t enough who have looked at the gaps and said “I will open bookstore in my community.” Many markets are now underserved, which often means the online Goliath get the business by default.

If you are thinking that then person to open a book store is you, here are some important considerations you may not be hearing from the media or even your own network of family, friends, and colleagues:

1. Print reading remains strong – According to research published in Publishers Weekly, ebook sales may level off at just thirty percent of the market, way less than the original predictions by IT professionals (who were self-serving in their forecasts). Seventy percent of book sales happens in print.

2. Younger people choose print too – When you think of kids growing up with printed picture books and those who fell in love with reading by devouring the Harry Potter adventures, there’s no surprise that many teens want to read in print. They’re using electronics for social interaction, but there is a perceived benefit to holding a book.

3. We need the balance between high-tech and high-touch – Many people go to a bookstore because it’s it feels like a sanctuary. People who work from home vocalize their need to be around other people. Most of us need a balance of time alone and time with others, for conversation and connection. Bookstores are third places and now that many communities are without bookstores, people recognize what’s missing.

Bookstores will not disappear if people keep asking the beautiful question, “Who will open a book store in our town?” If you’ve had dreams of opening a bookstore, but thought it was no longer a wise choice for your resources or time, keep learning and investigating the opportunities. A bookstore will meet the needs of readers to discover great books and give reasons to gather and talk about ideas. Bookstores fill that human need.

Rich colors, beautiful wood, a curated selection all make The Well-Read Moose a real gift to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, thanks to Melissa DeMotte.

Rich colors, beautiful wood, a curated selection all make The Well-Read Moose a real gift to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, thanks to Melissa DeMotte.

Imagine celebrating a lifelong dream of opening a bookstore. This week, I’d like to share stories of two smart, remarkable women who took the fork in the career road to pursue something that “just would not let go” … owning a book store.

Melissa DeMotte has spent many years as a corporate CFO and after some health challenges, decided it was time to make some things happen in her life. In beautiful, scenic Coeur d’Alene, Idaho she has been developing the bookstore cafe concept in the Riverstone development, a new favorite place for locals and tourists.

The Well-Read Moose, the dream of a former corporate CFO, offers books for Father's Day during the soft opening.

The Well-Read Moose, the dream of a former corporate CFO, offers books for Father’s Day during the soft opening.

Last week, we helped Melissa put the finishing touches on her new bookstore, The Well-Read Moose. About 2700 feet total with approximately 1650 devoted to the bookstore, customers popped in while we were setting up, asking when the store would be open. They mentioned reading about Melissa and the new indie bookstore about to open in the local paper. When we flew in, we met an English teacher at the local college who said she’d cut out the article and tucked it inside the next book group book so she could make sure everyone in the group knew the community would have its own indie bookstore.

What I loved best about some of the non-book items Melissa has chosen … literary candles by PaddyWax in Atlanta (I purchased the Emily Dickinson tin for my friend who plays Emily in the one-woman show “Belle of Amherst); an amazing card selection, including designs from That’s All (with a company tagline: “Say it like it is … Curing cancer while laughing-out-loud); toys of favorite storybook characters (the Little Nut Brown hare is so soft and adorable); beautiful pens and those gorgeous journals by Paperblanks.

Melissa learned retail management skills before launching this new chapter in her career.

Melissa learned retail management skills before launching this new chapter in her career.

The coffee was brewing in the cafe and regional wines will be arriving for the mid-June grand opening. We are thrilled for Melissa and the Coeur d’Alene community. See the Paz & Associates Facebook page for more photos.

Prairie Path Books is proof of what my mother used to tell me: “Where there is a will, there is a way.” Sandy Koropp first contacted us a few years ago with an idea of buying an existing bookstore. A former attorney, Sandy does her research and is good at testing the waters before taking on risk.

While assessing the potential for the existing store, Sandy began hosting author events in partnership with local organizations to discover she loved authors and books and really loved connecting readers with great stories. The events took place in cool venues and word spread that attending one of Sandy’s events was a guarantee of a great, mind-stretching experience.

Great at collaboration and win-win outcomes, Sandy spoke with the owner of Toms-Price, an iconic furniture store in Wheaton and before long, they came up with a plan for the bookstore to occupy space within the store. There’s no shortage of comfy seating in this bookstore and of all of the bookstore designs, this will always have a fresh supply of beautiful tables and armoires for feature displays.

The local press celebrates with this story and these bookstore photos of Prairie Path Books.

These two amazing women have seized opportunities in today’s marketplace as the big box stores have proven to be unsustainable. In their place, we have creative, unique, human scale bookstores that are a beautiful reflection of what is possible when you follow your dream. As a result, these communities are given bookstores that are gathering places where we learn, grow, and fully live.