Brockport, New York: Home to the Poets and Lift Bridge Book Shop

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While the outskirts of Brockport, New York have taken on the typical accoutrements of modernization -- shopping malls, large supermarkets, and bookstore chains -- the village retains a satisfying sense of history, with its Victorian architecture, Main Street, Strand Theater, and, yes, even its literary tradition. It was once the home of author Mary Jane Holmes, and poet Archibald MacLeish described this port on the famed Erie Canal as the "town where the poets are." Aesthetically and intellectually, this is a fitting location for the independent Lift Bridge Book Shop.

"We might be considered the anchor of the village," said Archie Kutz, who owns Lift Bridge Book Shop, and runs it with his wife, Pat. "We’re in the center; we’re the largest retail spot in town."

Kutz told BTW that, when the store opened in 1972, many people predicted that a bookstore wouldn’t survive in Brockport. Today, Lift Bridge is the largest employer in the village, with a staff of 16, eight of whom are full-time, including a few who have been with the store for more than 10 years. In 2001, the store moved into a larger, 7,000-square-foot space, allowing it to consolidate its extensive children’s and quality toy section with the rest of the store (until 2001, the children’s section had been located in a separate location in Brockport).

Additionally, Lift Bridge offers customers a diverse selection, including school and office supplies, a custom framing service, art supplies, and posters. The store also supplies local schools with purchase orders and general books. Add to that the bookstore’s knowledgeable staff, and it’s no surprise that Lift Bridge has "a lot of local support," Kutz said. "And after a year of sorting things out [following the change of locations], things are moving along. We’ve been happy with sales over the past year."

However, while Lift Bridge has grown, so has its competition in the form of shopping malls and the campus bookstore at SUNY Brockport, which is run by Barnes & Noble. While "they have the contract to supply books [to the college]," Kutz said, "the buying and selling of used text books is a huge part of our business."

Meanwhile, in nearby Rochester, New York, there are two Barnes & Nobles and two Borders, Kutz said. Moreover, unless you’re within walking distance, downtown Brockport is not an easy place to shop. "We’re in a downtown area, and there’s not a lot of convenient parking here, so we have that kind of thing to deal with here," he explained.

In light of this imposing competition, the store needed to remind its loyal customers, and inform potential patrons, about the special attributes the bookstore offered. Toward that end, the bookstore has been a Book Sense member since the program’s inception, and is now part of the program. "Just to be a member of Book Sense -- that represents the independent bookseller," he said. "Being where we are in western New York State, with no other independent stores [nearby] -- we’re the last of a breed. It’s something we could show to our customers…that you don’t have to buy from the chains."

At the front of the store, Lift Bridge displays the Book Sense bestsellers, near its Oprah Book Club selections. (Currently, the store’s Book Sense section is devoted to the 2002 Book Sense Book of the Year Award winners.) Furthermore, Kutz placed the Book Sense logo on bags, and it is a prominent feature on the Lift Bridge Web site. The Book Sense gift certificate program is also a key part of Lift Bridge’s marketing. Its logo is embedded in all e-mails the store sends out, which generally entails marketing in-store events.

Though the competition poses many challenges, Kutz is optimistic about the future of his bookstore. The Erie Canal system is currently under development for tourism, which will drive more visitors to port towns like Brockport. For retail owners in quaint villages along the notable waterway, the increased traffic bodes well for business. "I look forward to [tourism] expanding," Kutz said. --David Grogan