Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri is the recipient of the Bookstore Make-Over Project sponsored by The Bookstore Training Group of Paz & Associates to celebrate their twentieth anniversary serving independent bookstores. Seventeen bookstores from across the U.S. entered the contest.

“Our goal was to select one project that would help illustrate affordable solutions to issues that many bookstores have in common,” noted founder Donna Paz Kaufman. “Left Bank Books provided the perfect combination of opportunities,” she added. In the store’s application, owners Kris Kleindienst and Jarek Steele commented, “Frankly, it’s looking really tired at this point and the layout does not work for us at all anymore.” In addition to their design and merchandising expertise, Paz & Associates will contribute $2,000 for upgrades and materials, with labor provided by the store.

The design group at Paz & Associates will address display windows, the front of store experience, traffic flow throughout the space, focal point displays, signage and promotional messaging, the “Wow” factor for creating word-of-mouth marketing, and event staging. The project has an October 15 completion date. Watch for updates on this blog!

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.

Now that the political season is heating up, we have to wonder how we’ll ever be able to get out of the financial mess that’s affecting the entire world. What will the new economy look like and who will help create it?

America has always been a land of entrepreneurs with a “can-do” attitude. Just last week, we visited Athens, Georgia to help put the finishing touches on a new indie bookstore, founded by one of the country’s youngest bookstore entrepreneurs. We first met Janet Geddis at BookExpo in 2009 and later that year, she attended our five-day intensive workshop retreat on owning a bookstore. Attentive every moment, she took copious notes, engaged in “group think” with the class, and asked smart, timely questions about the industry.

Indie Bookstore Grand Opening

The Avid Reader opens in Athens, Georgia this week.

Her greatest challenge was the lack of start-up capital. Without it, how would Janet get this business off the ground? We knew she had the intelligence and passion to create something wonderful if she could only find the funds. What has subsequently unfolded in Athens is a story we hope to see played out in communities everywhere.

Janet relied on her personal network and social media to share her dreams with friends, neighbors, colleagues, and the local press. With an already strong ‘Shop Local’ movement, a younger and educated demographic from the University of Georgia, and an interest in grass-roots efforts, Janet was cultivating fertile ground and kept widening her network, winning fans along the way.

She started small, launching a web store to get going, showing up at festivals and other gatherings with a table to sell used books, created fund-raising events around her photographic art. She bartered, sent out ‘wish lists’ of things she needed to get the store open. She was never reluctant to ask for the help she needed. And she was determined to realize her dream – even when a bookseller from another town suddenly opened (and just as suddenly, closed).

This week, Janet will officially open Avid Bookshop in a quaint historic neighborhood of young families, professors, and students. A large replica of a colorful hot air balloon brightens the children’s room, courtesy of an artist friend. The fiction section has been personally selected by Janet and when chatting with her new staff, Tom, Sonia, and Rachel, you can foretell they will sell an amazing amount of fiction because of their passion for debut authors and taste for masterful writing. There’s a display of hand-made books created by another local artist.

It literally took a village to create an indie bookstore, and a young entrepreneur made it all happen. When we create a new economy with integrity and connection, we’re headed in the right direction — and a new generation of entrepreneurs, just like Janet, will lead the way.

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.

10/24/2010

Beautiful, well organized bookstore located in the Twin Lakes region of the Ozarks, rated as one of the top retirement havens in the US. Reader’s Choice Books has been in operation for three years and the 1200 SF store is netting over $28,000 and growing. Owner is retiring and moving.

Sale price is $75,000 and includes inventory, equipment, furniture and 30 days in-house training.This is a perfect second-income or retirement business with a 3 year ROI.

E-mail us for pics at chefdugan@gmail.com.

Contact Ed Dugan at (870) 425-0708.

Today’s news about Borders continues to accentuate the company’s difficulties in meeting its financial obligations to vendors ad landlords. The big box bookstore is proving difficult to sustain and the unfortunate result of the company closing more stores is that our retail landscape will change again — fewer communities will have a real bookstore to provide a sense of place where ideas are the center of life. More darkened retail spaces remind us of the stark lessons from more than a decade of overzealous growth.

Meanwhile, Mitch Kaplan (owner of Books & Books and former president of the American Booksellers Association) opens another store in downtown Miami. Just 800 square feet in an urban setting with high foot traffic, the space is just right. Rents are high, but Mitch knows he can select just the right merchandise and sell like crazy out of a teeny, tiny storefront.

One of the inaccurate conclusions many prospective booksellers make when looking at the ABA’s ABACUS Financial Survey of Independent Bookstores is about the size space a bookstore needs to become profitable. If you take the average sales per square foot ($334 in the 2010 survey) and do the math, you’d come up with a space almost 3,000 square feet to gross about a million dollars a year. While this still seems quite small from the mega stores at 30,000 square feet and more, it can still be too much space — resulting in too much overhead and a tough uphill climb to profitability.

Simple math can sometimes lead to incorrect conclusions. First, in our work with indie booksellers, we know that some of the most successful stores are not reporting to ABA. We wish they would so the averages would reflect their success! Second, we know stores that generate $500 to almost $1,000 in sales per square foot annually, way above the ABACUS average. Their space is cozy and small, definitely “unchain” in its ambiance and appeal.

What should you do if you’re thinking of opening a bookstore? Start small. Be smart and minimize expenses while you’re working diligently to market your business and generate sales. Hold small events in your bookstore and find venues to hold large scale events so you’re not paying monthly rent on space you need occasionally. Sell beyond your four walls. Reach out to organizations, businesses, conventions, schools, government offices to sell books and bring people to your bookstore. Offer a website that sells books so others can shop locally when they may live across town.

The financial challenges the big box stores are facing will result in retail ghost towns. These spaces will stand as a constant reminder of the mistakes we made in the past, and the wisdom that ‘Small is Smart’ for entrepreneurs investing in their communities today.

Whether we’re reading a classic novel or a new children’s picture book, it’s touching to see the little guy win. We root for the underdog with a valiant cause, valuing a noble struggle against all odds.

Yet the whole concept of “winning” is interesting in itself, since its definition is so personal. In business, you’d think that it boils down to sales and profits, market share and ROI. But for a small business like an indie bookstore, the definition can vary greatly. We pose the question in our workshops and love to hear the thought-filled responses.

Some want more freedom in their work day or flexibility to pick up kids from school, even having the kids help out in the business. Others want a canvas that allows them to be more creative. Some are tired of bumping their heads on a glass ceiling and know they have the skills to be on their own. Others want to follow a dream they’ve held for years. One said he just wants to grow old in the bookstore. All generally want to enrich their communities by providing a sense of place. Their idea of winning is to have a bookstore where people gather, share ideas, and learn from the exchange.

Just after the economic meltdown two years ago, two women who were in the midst of opening a bookstore in Brooklyn faced uphill battles for bank financing. They persisted with an alternative plan: raise funds from future customers. It worked and now Jessica Stockton Bagnulo and Rebecca Fitting own the bustling indie bookstore Greenlight Books. You can listen to Jessica tell the story in this short video.

The media are finally beginning to notice that all is not doom and gloom, that there are some quite amazing stories about indie booksellers doing quite well. E-books may have been sexy for a while, but what is there to talk about after you’ve discussed the backlit screen quality and dictionary links … and that they’re contributing to the demise of indie booksellers? Meanwhile, many of those same bookstores keep sponsoring children’s storytime, hosting favorite authors, and staging events to bring customers into their stores. They vet the plethora of books being released each season, zero in on some remarkable new voices and love nothing more than talking about books with customers.

What drives the continued effort – and struggle against the odds – is love and passion and a belief in providing something of value for others. In the words of Rabindranath Tagore, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

Who’s to say we can’t follow our dream, find ways to make things happen, and experience our own definition of success? All my life, my mother would say to me, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Today, even though she no longer walks this earth, those wise words ring true.