Renovating With an Eye on the Bottom Line

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Whether to improve traffic flow, create more or less space, or simply spruce up, several indie bookstores are undergoing renovations with an eye towards the bottom line.

Rhinebeck's Oblong Books & Music was spruced up with a new red carpet.

Suzanna Hermans, the co-owner of Oblong Books & Music, which has locations in Rhinebeck and Millerton, New York, knows a thing or two about remodeling. In April 2011, the Rhinebeck store was spruced up and 1,000 square feet was added; the Millerton children’s store is currently undergoing renovation; and plans are in the works for the adult store to receive similar treatment.

When the Rhinebeck store seemed to be getting crowded during events, Hermans decided to expand.  After calling on the New England Independent Booksellers Association’s (NEIBA) Peer Review for input from her bookselling colleagues, she decided to re-carpet the store as well.

“I’m so glad we did it — it really brightened the whole store up,” she said. “The NEIBA Peer Review was essential. For our Rhinebeck store, we knew we were going to be expanding anyway, so it seemed like the right time to remodel. We got lots of great feedback at the peer review that we were able to put in action right away.”

Only a few display tables were added to the store, and after moving around some of the bookcases, Oblong was equipped with a spacious new events space.

The Millerton stores have a more a challenging layout, said Hermans, since they’re in a much older building. The children’s store, Oblong Jr., is getting new carpet and fixtures, and is being repainted both inside and out. Remodeling of the adult store is still in the planning stages, which, as of now, consists of replacing the freestanding bookcases. “Our main goal there is to spruce up the space, and add seating and display space,” Hermans said.

“Business has been up in Rhinebeck every month since the remodel (that’s 16 months in a row) and the customers absolutely love it. We are so glad we did it!”

Similarly, for Politics & Prose in Washington D.C., the need to renovate came in response to a surge in customer traffic. “We have a good problem, which is that our events are drawing larger and larger audiences,” said Bradley Graham, who owns the store with his wife, Lissa Muscatine. “And we see this trend continuing, so we wanted to try to do something that will provide a more comfortable viewing experience for the people coming to the store.”

Graham said that it has been years since the layout of the store has been altered, and the current arrangement of the cashier’s desk, info desk, and shelves are not particularly conducive to browsing and checking out with ease. These renovations are intended to change that, he said.

Graham has experience with residential renovation and is familiar with some of the architectural and design firms in Washington, whom he approached for opinions.  He put the project up for bid, and as it turns out, he ended up with the architect and contractor who designed his house.

The renovations will allow for more table display space, more shelving for sidelines, and significantly more seating area for events. The changes are scheduled to be completed by the end of this month.

For George Kiskaddon, owner of Builders Booksource in Berkeley, California, one way to ensure the store’s future and improve the bottom line is to downsize — or “resize,” as he called it.

The 2,700-square-foot store is being remodeled to about 1,400 square feet, which will force Kiskaddon to be more selective in what he carries. The store mainly caters to builders and engineers, whose needs and priorities in terms of books have changed due to the economy.

“It’s a different market now,” said Kiskaddon.

By reducing the store’s footprint, he will be able to keep Builders Booksource at the same address, in a high-end shopping area, and save on the cost of rent.

“It will be a nice relief from the high rent. It’s definitely going to be cozier, but it won’t take away from the store. We’ll have just as much business in a smaller space,” Kiskaddon said. The store’s freestanding shelving units are on wheels, which will allow Builders to open up the space to continue its series of events and workshops.

Good construction and design are obviously of importance to Builders, which is why Kiskaddon decided to work with the same architect that originally designed the store more than 30 years ago. Since the landlord is helping with the cost of the renovations, it will be done at a reasonable price.

“It’s going to be beautiful,” said Kiskaddon, adding that this move is one of many things that will allow Builders to maintain its current success. “We’re optimistic. We celebrated our 30th anniversary in April, and we’re figuring on quite a few more,” he said.

The Book Rack Bookstore in Newburyport, Massachusetts, recently marked its 40th anniversary, and to celebrate, HugoBooks’ John Hugo decided to give the store a makeover. His main concern was aesthetics, but he also added an entirely new gifts-and-cards section, which is important for a store in a tourist area, he said. “It had been a while, and we decided it needed a big soup to nuts redo.”

Hugo hired an interior designer to plan the renovations, which he said was valuable, “even if it was just to have everything match,” he said. Sales have been up since the renovations, and customers are eager to give positive feedback on the store’s new look.

“It was expensive but worth every penny,” said Hugo. “Everybody says it looks fantastic in here.  It has a new pizzazz.”