I marvel at American booksellers for their tenacity and I envy European booksellers for the support they get from their countries.

From big box stores to Amazon, they’ve stuck to their principles even when predatory pricing presents tremendous hurdles to sustainability. Today’s op-ed piece in The New York Times by Pamela Druckerman offers a perspective for American reader on just how some European countries are supporting their locally owned bookshops for the sake of “biblio diversity.”

The Watermill in Aberfeldy, Scotland offers a beautiful selection of books and great service ... and fabulous coffee too.

The Watermill in Aberfeldy, Scotland offers a beautiful selection of books and great service … and fabulous coffee too.

First, countries have witnessed there’s a lot to be lost when mega corporations sell below cost for the sole purpose of driving out competition:

“The French secret is deeply un-American: fixed book prices. Its 1981 ‘Lang law,’ named after former Culture Minister Jack Lang, says that no seller can offer more than 5 percent off the cover price of new books. That means a book costs more or less the same wherever you buy it in France, even online.”

Yes, books are protected because they are not “potatoes”. Books are ideas. Putting ideas into the hands of just a few corporations is scary.

Placing a cap on discounting limits predatory pricing as a competitive advantage. This is a game-changer. and provides a different dynamic for European booksellers and readers. This supports small business. It also says books and ideas are valued.

In the U.S. we have to continue to out-smart and out-wit the mega corporations by changing the rules of the game and competing on ways that are local, authentic, human, and about the in-person experience.

People who read and especially those who own bookstores are very special souls. Last week we held our spring workshop retreat and while we never really know how the group will relate and how the week will unfold, we are always reminded of the magic that is created when we put our hearts and minds together on the same page.

Independent businesses, thanks to the ‘Shop Local’ movements, have been gaining momentum. But at the same time, people love shopping online and are growing more comfortable with hand-held technologies. The realities of high-tech influence today’s bookstores as does our continued human need for high-touch. Developing ways to address both led us into some wonderfully rich territory.

Spring Workshop Retreat Graduates

Creating a special sense of place for our community took many varied forms. One store will have a nook of comic books and action figures (a passion of one of the owners). Another new store owner will stretch the world of adult fantasy and science fiction into a concept that will help children learn about science and expand their creative horizons. One will spotlight works by local artists. Still another will focus on healthy (and happy) living. And then there’s another who will explore publishing on local topics.

What’s emerging is an ever-larger way of looking at what a bookstore does, what it carries, and how it serves. Today’s bookstore is not just about coming in to pick a book off the shelf. It’s about catering to a lifestyle, sharing interests, and creating a gathering place. Merchandise selections go beyond books. Programs are not limited to visiting authors. Sustainability rests on multiple sources of income.

While there were two people who had worked in bookstores, most had never worked in a retail setting. Sharing insights, lessons, knowledge, and wisdom from other careers, we all stretched our ideas of what a bookstore is for a community … and all the possibilities that can make indie bookstores even more fun, interesting, and vital.

The book industry is one big tent where everyone belongs. Readers tend to think and feel deeply and are interested in the big wide world of life. Unlike online stores, there’s nothing like visiting a comfy bookstore filled with wonderful items where you can simply show up and discover something that might change the course of your life. This very fact that we are readers and serve readers is what makes us optimistic about the future of bookstores.

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.

“Indie Bookstores Rising” was a recent feature in New York magazine that listed 13 new and renewed indie bookstores in and around the city. Although they are all bookstores, no two look or feel the same. Step inside any of them and you can’t help but stop and take in a deep breath. You’re in a one-of-a-kind place.

Indie booksellers often will explain that customers come in with visiting friends and show ‘our bookstore’ to their guests, introducing them to the owner, favorite booksellers, and most frequented sections. A great community bookstore is a sign of civic pride, a sign that the community has its priorities straight and doesn’t look like Anytown, USA.

Beyond the books, gifts, and other items for the reading lifestyle, an indie bookstore has some intangible elements that can be felt, but can’t be replicated by the corporate entities. It might be the creaky floors and soulful wooden tables. Maybe it’s the display of what community book groups are reading. It could be that fun play area inside the lighthouse in the kid’s section. Or, it’s a familiar face ready to recommend some new amazing fiction or introduce you to a debut author you’ve never heard of.

When an area has been taken over by corporate retail outlets and the pendulum has swung so far away from locally-owned businesses, people find the quaint, funky store a refreshing break from the sea of sameness.

Indie bookstores are a sign that some authenticity still exists. Choosing an indie bookstore is consistent with our new awareness of the food we eat, where we bank, how Wall Street profits don’t enrich our local economies, who funds the local Little League teams, and where we can find something interesting and unique close in your own community.

“Indie” is now becoming a lifestyle choice that permeates the lives of a growing number of people. Just as we’ve seen in New York City, there’s growing support for indie bookstores and the much larger “shop local” movement. How refreshing.