I think we’re at a tipping point in developing alternatives for affordable retail space …

Mark and I recently visited Nashville, our former home town, and loved traveling East Nashville, a community blossoming with home renovations and new cafes and retail stores.

While Nashville is known as a creative community … home of the Southern Festival of Books, Ann Patchett’s Parnassus Books, plus all of those creative songwriters and composers who come from all over the world to contribute to the world of entertainment.

IMG_0131What we stumbled across was The Idea Hatchery, a cluster of small spaces near a major intersection. The flyer we picked up began with the headline:

“Start a Small Business in East Nashville”

Then continued, “The Idea Hatchery is”

* A community of small independent businesses hosted in 8 individual buildings.

  • An arrangement of buildings that have footprints of 168 sf, 256 sf, and 320 sf.
  • An opportunity to experiment and to share ideas with other small business owners.

The Idea Hatchery offers:

  • 1 year leases with no limits on renewal.
  • Reasonable rents with pro-rated utilities…”

Check out the gallery of photos and just imagine all of the cool things people discover when they visit.

New models are surfacing. They focus on collaboration, synergy, and creative energy. It’s an exciting era for indie businesses.

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.

The idea for the Bookstore Make-Over Contest as a way to celebrate our 20th year in business stemmed from one core belief: the future of retail bookselling is about creating a remarkable in-store experience, something authentic and palpable that you can’t get with a click.

The railing opened the entrance and the stairway to the lower level.

Last week we applied the finishing touches at Left Bank Books in St. Louis, MO, the amazing indie bookstore with a fun and funky personality and a fabulous reputation for staging events. Early in the week, Dennis Jakovac with St. Louis Stair & Wood Works was in to install a beautiful new wrought-iron railing. Rather than have customers feel crowded the moment they entered the store, we chose to add a little breathing room by opening up the entrance to the staircase … and encourage customers to come in, take a deep breath, linger, and be prepared for delicious book discoveries.

The front of any store is key real estate – especially to the right of the entrance – so we rearranged the bestsellers and new releases for fiction and non-fiction. Fixtures were moved, painted “junktique” tables were added, and we filled the focal point tables with books “of the moment.”

The Children's Department now has a space of its own.

The children’s section had been stuffed into a corner along a back wall beyond hardcover fiction, but it was not a place you’d want to linger. This entire department was moved to the back of the store where the far wall was painted a beautiful blue and a wrought-iron chandelier was added to catch the eye and help identify this special area.

Adjacent to the children’s department, we created a section called “Comforts of Home.” Cookbooks, a top selling category with high inventory turns, was expanded to two cases and two feature tables. Gardening, interiors, crafts, and etiquette are also grouped in this area.

At least four oversized island cases, one bulky table, a number of cardboard dumps, and a few wire spinners were removed from the sales floor. Their presence was unnecessary given stock levels and they impeded the flow of traffic through the store. Because of their height and heft, the extra fixtures created visual barriers as well – they were simply in the way, contributed to the clutter, and needed to go.

Magazines surround the Cash Wrap at Left Bank Books

Magazines that relate to news and current issues face the Non-Fiction new releases.

Magazines sales at the store had been on the decline, just as they are nationally. So we clustered art and design magazines on one side of the cash wrap facing those sections and relocated the weekly magazines that report on world affairs to the cash wrap side that faces the front of the store and new non-fiction. That way, they’ll get noticed by the customers who shop those topics.

Gifts and non-book items (terms we much prefer than “sidelines”) had been clustered on tables in the far corner of the store and completely lost. The solution was to cross-merchandise those items throughout the store where they would make for delightful discoveries.

Left Bank Books front of store fiction display

Fiction, the bestselling section in the store, gets a focal point display filled with important new releases.

Most gratifying about the project were the customer comments we heard while wrapping up the make-over. “I’ve been coming here since the 1970s,” one customer noted. “The changes are remarkable and give the store a lively feel.” A family quickly made their way to the new children’s department where the kids grabbed some books and sat on the bench in front of the display window. The mother commented, “Wow, look at the new space for kids’ books!”

After all of the pieces were in place, do-owner Kris Kleindienst wrote, “With Paz’s expertise outside perspective we were able to finally achieve a beautifully thought-out, relevant, unique and gorgeous new feel to our store without sacrificing our identity.”

Left Bank Books Focal Point "Junktique" Table

Repurposing tables and stacking them gave us more focal point display space. Here's a spotlight on poetry.

It’s remarkable what a new vision, some paint, rearranging fixtures, regrouping sections, adding a few unique tables in key spaces, and some cleaning and clearing can do! You’ll find more photos on our Facebook page … and in the autumn issue of our free e-newsletter, indie bookstore entrepreneur.

There has never been a time when offering an enriching, rewarding sense of place has been more important. Let’s keep giving our customers reasons to say, “Let’s go to the bookstore!”

What a fascinating time … and how refreshing it is to see ‘Local’ become fashionable. From Sarasota, FL to Rapid City, SD and Nantucket, MA to Bainbridge Island, WA, ‘Shop Local’ initiatives are moving full steam ahead, where residents want fewer national chains and more local flavor.

Was this predictable? Maybe in part. The last three decades brought us a deluge of stores and shopping centers that began to look the same. Perfectly coiffed with the same merchandise, their appeal didn’t have staying power. When the economy softened, corporate decisions, meant to preserve profits and shareholder investments, resulted in dark storefronts all across the country.

Bookstores sponsor events

Bookstores draw the right clientele

And who survived? The tenacious, spirited indie retailers — yes, the “Mom & Pop” stores. Not only have they weathered economic ups and downs (most recently created by the temporary deep discounting offered by the chains when they first moved to town), owners of independent businesses held on because their entire livelihood was on the line. Their commitment to community reached far beyond hitting profit targets – they were in it for the long haul.

Now that hundreds of communities are without bookstores — some driven out by the proliferation of Wall Street financed chains, and now Borders stores closing as a result of the ongoing mismanagement of the revolving executives who ran the company — there are openings for new anchors on Main Street and in retail developments from coast to coast. An independent bookstore is a wise choice to fill an opening, especially if the objective is to draw an upscale demographic.

While some would have us believe that e-books are rendering bookstores obsolete, brick-and-mortar bookstores are still relevant and here’s why. Printed books account for 85% of book sales and research now shows that those who read e-books still value — and buy — printed books. Bookstores are considered gathering places and symbolize an educated community that values learning as a lifelong endeavor. Also, people who read want to know what to read next. Independent booksellers have long been recognized for their genuine passion for books, honesty in making recommendations, and their ability to help publishers launch new writers. In most redevelopment polls, people say they most want a bookstore in their community — and will support it.

To developers and landlords, we suggest you look beyond the media’s obsession with technology to see the opportunities in your own backyard. An indie bookstore will draw the right demographic, hold a long-term commitment to the area, and will contribute to the well-being of the community.

As consumers become more and more mindful that a ‘Local’ focus helps their community, the momentum is continuing to build. To ensure that developments gain (rather than lose) appeal, you need look no further than an indie bookstore. It may require some investment and accommodation on the developer or landlord’s part to get a bookstore open for business, but its presence will generate ongoing tangible results.