40 ABA Member Stores Open in 2009

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Despite last year's economic challenges, 40 ABA member stores opened in 2009 across the U.S. The new indie bookstores are in 19 states, with California, New York, and Wisconsin leading the way, at five openings each. Illinois and Texas followed, each with four new indie bookstores. Included in the 40 regular new stores are two branches of existing businesses -- Books Inc. in Berkeley, California, and Posman Books in New York City. One ABA international member also opened for business in 2009: Coral Reef Bookstore in Anguilla, British West Indies.

To meet the challenges of the Great Recession, the new owners carefully fashioned business plans, put together curated book inventories, added an array of gift and other non-book items, and sought unique ways to promote their stores.

Daniel Goldin, who opened Boswell Book Company on Downer Avenue in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in April in the former Harry W. Schwartz location he had managed, told BTW: "We've been very lucky in that the community seems to be responding to us well. When we first opened, folks were very gracious, but when they came back this fall, they said, 'Actually, we were happy to have anything, but now we really like the store.'" Although Boswell has not reached Goldin's "very ambitious numbers," he said, "We're generally within spitting distance of our sales goals. Transaction numbers are off, but the sales per customer are above projection. That makes us think we're really connecting with core book buyers and folks who really value what we're doing."

Importantly, and what should make publishers happy, he said, "is that new book sales are up substantially more than anything else." The biggest shortfalls were in sales of magazines and bargain books, but bargain book numbers have improved with the addition of more inventory and display space.

Goldin takes advantage of free local media coverage to promote store events and utilizes all of the major social networking sites. He freely admits that the store is "good at blogs, OK with Facebook, crappy with Twitter." Boswell also publishes an e-mail newsletter ("it's very counter to a lot of other ones out there, long and gabby and almost meant to be printed out," he said), and an in-store event calendar/newsletter that is sometimes mailed out.

Customers can sign up for a five-percent rebate program, and Boswell occasionally offers coupons. "We do traditional ads and co-sponsorships, and we did a lot of off-sites and selling at gift markets," Goldin added. "That led to us trying to have some gift markets in the store (one was based around a graphic novel, and another took on some local craftspeople after their outdoor farmer's market closed), and they've been very successful at building traffic." Goldin doesn't charge vendors a percentage or a booth fee for these occasional events; he views these giveaways as an investment in building traditional sales.

Boswell's book club program is off to a good start, and a shopping night program (an idea borrowed from the Schwartz Bookshops) is doing pretty well. But, Goldin said, "We have a long ways to go in many areas."

Goldin initially concentrated on building Boswell's core book business, and then slowly began adding non-book items to the inventory mix. "By fall we had a pretty nice selection of journals, cards, plush, and assorted bric-a-brac," he said. Although he has brought many of the successful ideas from the Schwartz Bookshops to his new store, Goldin believes he has an advantage in being able to get his staff more involved in the inventory selection process, and that it is easier for the single store to incorporate themed displays. "We had a bird table (assorted cards, bookends, resin birds, and that wonderful Bright Wings anthology and many other books)," he said, "a very successful sock monkey table (assorted toys, bookmarks, cards, plus that Te Neues book and some kids' titles), and a William Morris table that sold not just cards, journals and those V&A kitchen tools, but a pile of the little pattern book from Phaidon and several copies of his socialist essays from Penguin. Very cool!"

Goldin, whose high-energy and enthusiasm is well known among his bookselling colleagues, said of his first-year: "I scheduled 28 hours in a day to get things done, and I'm rather irritated that there are only 24."

Lanora Hurley, who opened Next Chapter Bookshop in the Schwartz Mequon location that she used to manage, told BTW: "Not a day that goes by that we do not hear 'I'm so glad you are still here!' The community here has been amazing. Over Christmas, customers brought in sweets for the staff to say 'Thank You.' The comments and support from the community has been what has kept me going through the long hours and general insanity of opening a business in these hard times."

Hurley said that hiring an "amazing staff" was among the things that she has done right. "My marketing and event coordinator, Rebecca Rick, worked under Nancy Quinn at Harry W. Schwartz, and she has done a phenomenal job," said Hurley. "We have learned that the most effective marketing tool we have is a print newsletter. This has surprised us a little, because it flies in the face of everything we are hearing. It turns out that our customers are still readers, and they like having something in their hands and in their mailboxes."

Next Chapter's holiday sales were given a boost by a gift guide put together by Rick, which Hurley said was fantastic. "We had people coming in the store with books circled and pages torn out with our recommendations that they wanted."

Hurley has paired down her store inventory to "30 percent less than the former [Schwartz] store, across the board," and she has put the focus on achieving the right mix of books. While Next Chapter does offer some gift items, "it has been a challenge to keep the gift inventory at a good level," she explained. "While we are not selling as much gift inventory as the Schwartz store did, as a percentage of sales we are selling more on less inventory. So, that is good.... The only area where we felt it necessary to get the inventory level near where it was last year was in the Children's Department, where sales are flat. And flat is the new up!"

Despite working hard this year to reach out to former Schwartz customers, "whether it is the economy or the change over, we still have a 15 to 20 percent decrease in traffic," said Hurley. An outreach to area teachers and schools has had moderate results.

Hurley is looking forward to April, when Next Chapter marks its first anniversary and she can start comparing the store's monthly sales figures with its own previous year's results. "Now that we are in our groove with just running the business, we are looking forward to spreading our wings a little and trying some new things, especially with our events," she said. "I am really proud of all the hard work and dedication my staff has put in for the past nine months. None of this has been easy, but it sure has been fun!"

Jane Phalen, manager of Kennebooks in Kennebunk, Maine, told BTW: "It has been an interesting opening year for us. As our event coordinator, Ann Carmichael, put it, 'If you build it, they will come' really only happens in the movies. That being said, the rainy summer was extremely helpful. We opened Memorial Day and had a wonderful reception. There were many visitors who were not able to be outside, and the new bookstore was a great alternative."

Phalen said that working with local inns and hotels has been a priority. Kennebooks gives these businesses coupons to offer their guests and makes them aware of upcoming events. "We started our e-mail list from day one," she added, "and with the busy summer we were able to build it quickly, and our customers are very receptive to joining. Using Constant Contact has been a good experience, and we use our bimonthly newsletter for event notification and to highlight specific books and sidelines. Online ordering is in the near future."

Kennebooks' non-book inventory includes cards, journals, prints by local artists, puzzles and games, and Envirosax nylon bags ("that have done quite well").

Kennebunk's winter population is about one-third that of the summer population, and the bookstore's biggest challenge, said Phalen, "seems to be making it known that we are here." The bookstore has done quite a bit of print and radio advertising, but since it's in a stand-alone renovated farmhouse the bookstore is easy to miss from the road. Owner Trish Koch has come up with a solution that is working quite well, however: She hung a bright, lime green sign that says "BOOK STORE" on the business' existing sign near the road. "Results were immediate!" said Phalen. "We are now working on becoming more involved with the community. We are in the process of establishing partnerships with the local schools. We offer our event room to book clubs registered with us, and will soon be hosting in-store book clubs, as well as reviving the story hour that did well in the summer." Kennebooks is also continuing to host author events in the store as well as off-site.

Joanna Richmond, who with her husband, Stuart, opened Read All Over this past summer said that almost everyone in the Port Arthur, Texas, community was very enthusiastic and excited to see the store arrive.

The Richmonds have been promoting the store via advertising in local newspapers, on the radio and TV, and in high school yearbooks. Read All Over, which features local author events each month, offers a frequent buyer club that is free to join and rewards $200 in purchases with a $10 gift certificate.

"We have added calendars and moleskine notebooks, etc. to our sidelines of jigsaw puzzles, greeting cards, puzzle balls, mugs, magazines, and journals," said Richmond. However, sales have not grown as fast as the couple had hoped. December helped, she said, but January sales are still below expectations.

Diane Savage was inspired to open The Reading Bug in San Carlos, California, by the birth of her granddaughter, Chloe. With the help of her entire family, and especially daughter-in-law (and mother of Chloe) Lauren Savage, she set out to create a warm, inviting children's bookstore with a robust selection of books for adults. Her hope was that the community would demonstrate its support by buying books from The Reading Bug rather than at a chain or from another online retailer. "The community's response has exceeded our expectations," said Savage. "The Reading Bug has very quickly become a part of the mid-Peninsula community, and many of our customers have told us that they are purchasing all of their books from us because they want us to be successful."

The Savages promote all activities and events via the store's e-commerce site and send a weekly newsletter to customers. They have also met with the librarians of the San Carlos schools and many other community organizations. In October, The Reading Bug introduced a customer loyalty program that provides a gift card to customers who purchase $200 of merchandise. Savage explained, "In December we extended this program so that schools can sign up for the same program, and parents can elect for their store purchases to be applied to their children's schools."

The Reading Bug attracts customers by offering at least one story time every day from Tuesday through Sunday. Story times on Saturday and Sunday feature a craft activity.

"We try to offer as many books as we can in paperback form, so that children can make their dollars go further," said Savage. "In order to realize our goal of becoming a community resource, as well as to increase our revenue, we offer a number of non-book items in the store -- music CDs, gift cards, plush toys (primarily toys that relate to our books), puzzles, wooden toys, and recycled toys and craft kits." All of the items are carefully selected. "We offer many items that were made in the United States; we offer fair trade plush toys made by mothers in Peru; and we offer as many good toys made from recycled materials as we can find," Savage explained. "We also offer to host book-themed birthday parties and other events at our store. Our store has a unique look and feel that makes it a wonderful venue for parties, and the community response to our parties has also been excellent."

Savage summed up her family's bookselling experiences to date: "We have learned that the book business is a complicated and difficult business, but there are many non-monetary rewards."

Joni Montover, owner of Paragraphs on Padre Boulevard on South Padre Island, Texas, is pleased with the way the community has embraced her new bookstore, although, she added, "The majority of my business is still from visitors to the island, but I continue to build a local customer base. I think that a lot of residents have learned to buy books online or have gone to a Kindle since we did not have a bookstore within 100 miles and habits are hard to break."

To bring Paragraphs to the attention of local residents, she has made sure that community organizations and nonprofit groups know that the bookstore exits and is willing to support them in any way possible. "Shortly after we opened, we hosted a 'Turtle Tea' to benefit Sea Turtle Inc., a sea turtle rescue facility located on the Island," Montover said. "For many raffles and other fundraising events, we provide ARCs and bookmarks that have the store's information included. We also sell tickets for local performances sponsored by the El Paseo Arts Foundation and provided a venue for the Valley International Poetry Festival. A well-attended and popular monthly event is a Play Readers group, where participants take turns reading the roles of characters in a selected play. The leader gives the group some background information on the play and then provides some insight into the characters."

Montover continues to refine and look for additional items for Paragraphs' nonbook inventory. "The reading glasses from 2020 Vision [benefiting ABFFE] have been well-received, as has the Crane stationery, which we buy through B&T. Less successful has been the NPR/B&T music promotion but it does add interest and is worth the effort of monthly returns. I am looking forward to adding a selection of magazines for the summer."

As for her overall bookselling experience to date, she said, "I am pleased with how well the first year has gone. I am surprised that we have been as successful as we have considering the overall economy and that tourism has been down. The general level of business on the Island has been down this year, so I am quite pleased that we have been able to meet my gross revenue goals for our first year. The other side of this is that more time is spent meeting with customers, and I have had less time available for back room functions that I had hoped to finish once we were open. The result is a feeling of always playing catch-up and an incredibly long list of things I want to do in the future."

For 2010, Montover's goals include converting her two-year-old blog into an e-commerce site that will offer customers the ability to download audio and e-books, and setting up accounts with more publishers so she can take advantage of their higher discounts.

In summary, Montover said, "It has been a busy year, and there are days when I feel pretty stressed, but, generally, I feel really lucky to live on a sandbar and to be surrounded by books. I wouldn't recommend moving to a new town, and building a shop and residence in order to open a new business in which one has no expertise, but, having done it, I must say it has been rewarding and a lot of fun." --Rosemary Hawkins

2009 ABA Member Store Openings

Alchemy of Woodstock



Backlist Books



Bertram & Oliver Booksellers



Book King Bookstore






Books Inc.



Books N Beans, LLC



Boswell Book Company



Bridgeside Books



Buffalo Books

New Buffalo


Cliff Notes Prolonged Media



Dulce Bread & Book Shop

Dripping Springs


Eclectic Books



Flyleaf Books

Chapel Hill


Green Bean Books



Greenlight Bookstore






Knight Corner Bookshop



Montauk Bookshop



Next Chapter Bookshop



Off the Beaten Path



Old Towne Books and Tea



Only Helpful Books.com

La Crescenta


Open Book



Open Books



Paragraphs on Padre Boulevard

South Padre Island


Play by Play Theatre Bookstore

Saint Paul


Posman Books

New York


Read All Over

Port Arthur


Read Booksellers



Reading Frenzy BookShop



Simple Pleasures Books & Gifts



Stone Alley Books & Collectibles



Sven and Oles Books

New Ulm


Swift Books



Tale of Two Sisters Bookstore



The Bookery Nook



The Reading Bug

San Carlos


The Reading Place






Coral Reef Bookstore