Working With Hotels to Provide Bookish Amenities

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Strand Book Store in New York City and Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, are among the indie bookstores that have found opportunity in working with hotels to provide a customized library, a literary amenity, or an event that helps strengthen relationships to other local businesses.

In the 1990s, Strand started Books by the Foot, a service that provides corporate clients, such as hotels and interior design firms, with customized collections of books based on the client’s needs and the size of their space in linear feet. Strand co-owner Nancy Wyden launched the program after noticing several customers piling carts full of books to be used for large company projects. “There wasn’t an option for people who needed help finding a large quantity of books that fit into a certain theme or color while making the most of their budgets,” said Jenny McKibben, Books by the Foot and accounts manager at Strand.

The Reading Room at New York City's Library Hotel.

The Books by the Foot program started out very basic but has since grown to encompass a range of categories. Clients have the ability to purchase or rent libraries by topic or aesthetic and can preview them online via photos and title lists. Strand will also do its best to accommodate requests for specific titles, authors or genres; however, it cautions customers that the books they choose might not fall into the agreed upon “by the foot” price range.

When hotel clients begin working with Strand, they discuss the type of room — whether it’s a guest room or public area — and the amount of space they’re hoping to fill. They also need to come up with a budget and give the bookstore a sense of the content, which is usually based on the tone that the hotel is trying to set.

“If it’s a boutique hotel, they’re probably okay with used books, or ones that have more character,” said McKibben. “If it’s a new, slick hotel with high-end clientele, they probably want newer looking books about subjects like travel, art, and architecture.”

The Library Bar at the Rittenhouse Hotel in Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of Andrea Fazzari.

Many clients request a collection of books that adhere to a specific theme. A favorite is the city or area in which they are located –– such as the Rittenhouse Hotel in Philadelphia, which now has a Philly-themed book collection on display in its Library Bar. In the case of New York City’s Library Hotel, Strand compiled a different collection for every room since each has a different theme, such as philosophy, mathematics, and political science. For Chateau Versailles in Montreal, Strand included titles in both French and English.

“Every project is different,” said McKibben. “There’s no set collection that we sell to companies. They are all customized to each brand and the room’s purpose.”

The bookstore’s partnership with the Library Hotel goes even one step further. Guests who book a room through the hotel’s Guilty Pleasures package can order a foot of books for their rooms that they get to keep as a souvenir of their stay. “It’s like ordering a bottle of champagne,” said McKibben. When guests book their reservations, they are asked to indicate what kinds of books they are interested in. This information is forwarded to McKibben, who pulls books based on the guests’ interests. The bookstore sends the hotel a preview of the books via a photo and title list. Once the collection is approved, the bookstore processes the order, which is picked up by Library Hotel staff and arranged for the guest in their room. The Strand bills Library Hotel for the price of the books.

While the hotel collections are not discounted in the traditional sense, McKibben is able to use her expertise to find the best deals and most attractive books within the client’s budget. “We’re personal shoppers for their project. We shop smart, so in the end, they definitely do save a lot of money.”

“For the store, it’s a great way of selling a large volume of books,” said McKibben, adding that the Books by the Foot program has grown throughout the years and now accounts for about 10 percent of Strand’s business. “We don’t charge people extra for the service, because it allows us to sell a large collection. They get a customized collection just for them. We get to sell a beautiful book collection, and see the photos of the finished product!”

Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, recently began working with The Charles Hotel to offer a speaker series, and to date they have co-hosted events featuring Ann Patchett, Jared Diamond, and Tracey Kidder.

Working with the hotel is part of an effort to make the bookstore more visible to not only customers but also to fellow businesses in the area, said David Sandberg, who purchased the store with his wife last year.

“My plan for the next couple of years is to greatly increase our involvement in the business community,” he said. “This partnership is helping both [the hotel and the bookstore] raise awareness of local businesses in Cambridge. It definitely helps that we’re both local, independent businesses.”

The three events at The Charles were by invitation only. The bookstore and the hotel extended invitations to prominent members of the business community and to local people for whom the authors would hold special appeal. For the Ann Patchett event, the bookstore invited staff members and volunteers from Grub Street, a local creative writing organization. For Jared Diamond, members of the education community, including an assistant superintendent of schools, responded to the invitation.

The hotel provided a complimentary breakfast, and Porter Square sold books on site. Porter Square is also helping The Charles build a library of signed books by authors who have stayed at the hotel. The bookstore is selling discounted books to the hotel prior to the author’s stay. When the hotel has built its collection, it will allow guests to check out the books.

“Feedback from guests was extremely positive,” said Sandberg. “They just loved the events.”

Though the partnership with The Charles is currently at a standstill because the hotel staff member that organized these events left and has yet to be replaced, Sandberg wants to continue his work with The Charles and other hotels in Cambridge and Boston.

In the future, Sandberg plans to open the events to more of the store’s customer base and to charge admission for the event, with the price of the book included.