(for those who don’t get the image, here is the Wikipedia entry)
The subject of the future of bookstores is one that always hovers at the edge of the ebook conversation. The demise of Borders bookstore may have cast a long, ominous shadow on physical retailers, but not all bookstores are struggling. While I have discussed the future- and challenges- of independent bookstores here on the site, Forbes has actually profiled a successful indie bookstore. Better still, it is right in the heart of Silicon Valley! From Forbes:
You gotta believe. Leigh and two co-investors — husband Khader Abdel-Hafez and Jerry Sharkey — opened the store on Sunnyvale’s historic Murphy Avenue in 2004 believing that new plans for renovating a troubled adjacent shopping would soon create a “vibrant downtown” for their new business. That didn’t quite materialize for them at first. But the trio — who had worked together at another Silicon Valley bookstore — spent close to a year amassing an impressive number of books (close to 40,000 titles today) before they opened, and they had the market savvy to sell close to 1,000 in the first month. Leigh quickly established a reputation for selecting and selling high-quality used books– she has a tidy buy/trade program – with a mix of new titles luring readers in from the front of the shop. The place is immaculate, projecting a brand of love and care that seems to resonate with the store’s fans on Yelp. And for many people trafficking on foot along Murphy Avenue — a tiny two-block stretch near the Sunnyvale Caltrain station — the storefront must come as a surprise. An independent bookstore? In Sunnyvale? Was not so long ago that all you could find on the street were bars and restaurants, and many of them run down.
So this is how Leigh’s Favorite Books is a success: they built a niche that online commerce couldn’t quite recreate (swapping old books), they made sure they were well stocked right at the outset, and they merchandise the store to draw shoppers. It is basic retail 101. Since they are a bookstore though they need to execute perfectly. After all, one misstep and shoppers will be on their way to Amazon.
What really fascinates me comes later in the article when it mentions that Leigh’s Favorite Books has a sister store, Bookasaurus, which is focused entirely on children’s titles. The Forbes writer sees it as a lure for the younger crowd that used to shop at the adult store but now has kids. I cannot help wonder if it isn’t the opposite. I have said this before and I will say it again– ebooks for very small children are still a tough market. It’s one thing to share reading time with a book on an iPad or NOOK or Kindle Fire, but I don’t know many parents who would hand a child a pricey device and let them read by themselves. It is one thing to hand a child a hardback book by Dr. Seuss and quite another to hand over a $500… or $800 iPad! That means parents still need to buy real, dead tree books for kids. And hey, while they are there for the kids they can duck next door and get a title for themselves too!
I hope these two stores thrive. Doing so will prove there is a place in the world for brick and mortar bookstores. It sounds like they have a solid strategy, and it will be interesting to see if other areas follow their lead. Do you know of a solid independent bookstore in your area? Let us know in the comments!