How does an independent bookstore survive for 90 years?

16 August 2019

From The Deseret News:

It was 1929 and Gus Weller, a recent German immigrant and the owner of the secondhand shop Salt Lake Bedding, Furniture and Radio on 100 South, found himself in possession of a large collection of books.

“As the story goes, one day, he went to buy some old stuff,” said Tony Weller, Gus Weller’s grandson. “And this house he went to had a phenomenal collection of LDS books. My grandfather was a convert to Mormonism, and he was a very, very dedicated man. He bought those books, and … that collection that convinced him turn his little shop into a bookstore.”

. . . .

It was a decision that would change his life, and in time, shape the lives of his family members for the next 90 years and counting. As Weller Book Works celebrates its 90th anniversary — a millennium in bookstore years — on Aug. 17, its owners Tony and Catherine Weller look back on their bookstore’s history, how the store is doing now and their plans for its future.

. . . .

The early years of Gus Weller’s shop, then-called Zion’s Bookstore, were tough. He opened in the year of the Wall Street crash, running a small business through the Depression and doing his best earn enough for his and his wife Margaret’s 11 children. As World War II came to a close and his son Sam returned from overseas service, Gus Weller decided that his son was the help he was looking for, even if initially, Sam Weller had other ideas.

”(Sam) came back from the war and he thought he was going to get into theater. He liked to sing and dance,” his son Tony Weller said. “No one of the family had the money to go to college, but the GI Bill provided my veteran father with the college tuition, but his father had better plans for him than song and dance.”

Sam Weller — who Tony described as “hyperactive (and) charismatic” — was just what the struggling bookstore needed. He expanded the inventory, adding secular fiction and nonfiction books alongside his father’s collection of books about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For his first few years, Sam Weller slept at the store, showering at the local Deseret Gym, all the time working to help his bookshop grow. But for all of his relentless energy, Sam Weller needed organizational help.

Luckily for him, he fell in love with a woman who was an organization pro.

Sam Weller met Lila Nelson at the bookshop through a mutual friend. At the time, Nelson worked as an assistant to then-Deseret News managing editor Theron Liddle, and after Sam and Lila got married, she brought her mathematic, analytical brain to her new husband’s store.

”She really became the kind of organizer in the bookstore,” Tony Weller recalled. “My dad was more that energetic front man. … My mother was quiet, analytical, organized and together.”

Lila Weller, who at 103 still comes into the bookstore on a regular basis, created a system for tracking and cataloguing that became famous among booksellers throughout the West. In those pre-computer days, her system allowed the bookstore to monitor how long new books sat on the shelves and how many copies they sold.

”The brilliance (of her system was) being able to track (the books) in such detail, not just that you sold (a) book,” Catherine Weller said. It’s important for booksellers to know exactly when they ordered a book and exactly when it sold, rather than, as Catherine put it, going “by your memory and saying, ‘Oh, I ordered that sometime this year, so I’ll get a couple more.’”

. . . .

Taking up two full floors plus a balcony, the bookstore housed new books on the main floor and used books downstairs, a mysterious and musty maze of bookshelves punctuated by, oddly, mirrored pillars.

”We moved into an area that had once been a dance hall,” Tony Weller said. “Why would we take (the mirrors) down? They were cool.”

These were busy years for Tony Weller’s parents. In addition to running the bookstore, Sam Weller was the president of the American Booksellers Association, and in 1969, on Lila Weller’s suggestion, changed the store’s name to Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore. But in 1972, the book store caught fire. It was an event that taught Tony Weller two important things about his father.

”One, that he was a mortal,” Tony Weller said. “Until that time, I thought he was the toughest man I’d ever met who could overcome any problem, but that’s the time I saw him cry first. The other thing was that he was nearly a god.”

”He was going into building while it was burning,” Catherine Weller said. “And he did until the fire department told him it was too dangerous.”

. . . .

The fire nearly destroyed the business, Tony Weller recalled, but his father pushed to rebuild and in time, got the bookshop back on its feet. One of Sam Weller’s many gifts as a business owner was his involvement and leadership in the local community and reading communities, earning the title “The Mayor of Main Street” and forming, along with Lila and other local bookstores, the Intermountain Booksellers Association.

But the next couple of decades became increasingly difficult for a business on Main Street. As Salt Lake’s downtown district went through various transitions, from the Beautification Program in 1974 that cut parking, to the construction of the ZCMI and Crossroads Plaza Malls down the street, many Main Street businesses struggled to stay alive. Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore, as one of the largest bookstores in the Western United States, continued to attract readers while many other local business folded or moved, but a new threat — and opportunity — was coming, and it had nothing to with parking spots or shopping centers.

. . . .

”When I was a kid, … I was meeting 20-year-olds or 30-year-olds who were some of the brightest people in their generation,” he recalled. “So this kind of got me into the book business, because … I realized that I needed to stay here if I wanted to work with that caliber of people.”

It helped, too, that Tony Weller’s librarian girlfriend — the woman who became his wife — shared his passion for books and book people, and, like her new mother-in-law, was excited to work in her new husband’s family bookstore. ”When I came in to the bookstore, I came in as a bookseller,” Catherine Weller said.

. . . .

”I think … that people can feel overwhelmed,” Tony Weller said. “They actually like a little bit of help. In a store that’s a little smaller, if you gain the reputation of being smart book pickers by virtue of what you haven’t chosen, people say, ‘It’s a good book or they wouldn’t have chosen it.’”

. . . .

[I]t was the elder Lila Weller who perhaps summed up the Weller family’s dedication to books best. When asked why she still came in to Weller Book Works at age 103, she answered, “Well, I wouldn’t wouldn’t want to (quit). I mean, if somebody said ‘You can never touch another book in your life,’ that would be terrible.”

Link to the rest at The Deseret News

Here’s a link to a story about Lila Weller, including a photo taken of her on her 102nd birthday.

Indigo Sees Another Quarterly Sales Drop

14 August 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

Sales at Indigo, Canada’s leading book retailer, continue to slide. The company reported a total comparable sales decline of 7.6% for the first quarter of its current 2020 fiscal year compared to a year ago, a figure that covers both physical and online sales. Revenue for the first quarter ended June 29, 2019 was C $192.6 million compared to C $205.4 million for the same period last year, a decline of 6.3%. In the last quarter of fiscal 2019, ended March 30, 2019, revenue fell 7.4% compared to the final quarter of fiscal 2018 and comp store sales dropped 8.7%.

Overall, the company reported a first quarter loss of C$19.1 million up from a net loss of C$15.4 million last year.

The sales decline was blamed in part on a “reduction in promotional activity,” while the higher loss was pinned on the decline in sales combined with ongoing restructuring and renovation costs.

CEO Heather Reisman said: “This quarter’s results were in line with our expectations. While we continue to face many of the same headwinds from last year, strategic steps to recharge growth, increase productivity and improve profitability are well underway.”

. . . .

What specific “headwinds” Reisman is referring to was unclear, though as has been noted, the dearth of new bestselling titles may be contributing to the overall fall off in sales.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly


New Romance-Only Bookstore Aims to Bring Love to Tinley Park

12 August 2019

From Patch:

The second romance-only bookstore in the country opened in Tinley Park in mid-June. Love’s Sweet Arrow is owned and operated by mother-daughter team Roseann and Marissa Backlin, who were inspired to open the business by their love for romance novels.

“Romance is one of the most widely read genres in publishing, and yet there were only two exclusively romance bookstores in the world before we opened. And the only other one in the country is on the west coast,” Marissa Backlin said. “We wanted to do our part to change that and give romance readers a place to find their favorite books in the Midwest judgement-free.”

Developing the store from idea to actual opening took about a year.

“We had to do a lot of research into authors, publishing houses, form a business plan and attempt crowdfunding,” said Roseann Backlin, who also works as a food service manager at a local elementary school. The Backlins did a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $12,000 and are now accepting donations on Patreon. “We reached out to friends who had spare bookshelves, went to a resale shop [for furniture] and were lucky enough to get some of our used stock from a retiring bookstore owner.”

. . . .

In the age of impersonal ordering on Amazon, Love’s Sweet Arrow aims to be more than just an independent bookseller offering new and used novels. Marissa and Roseann hope to make it a community space, with events centered on bringing local residents together.

“In part of our research, we found that independent bookstores that focused on that community space feel and provided events for the community at large were more successful and were embraced by the community,” Marissa said.

Love’s Sweet Arrow hosts its own book club every other month, but encourages other local clubs to host meetings at the store.

Link to the rest at Patch

PG went to school and lived for several years in the Chicago area. While he vaguely remembered the name, Tinley Park, he had no idea where it was located.

A quick search revealed that Tinley Park is a village of 56,000 in South suburban Chicago east of Joliet.

While 56,000 people sounds a bit large for a “village,” if PG recalls correctly, under state law, Illinois has Cities, Towns and Villages. They are each forms of municipal government and PG seems to remember that no more Towns are being created, just Cities and Villages.

Indiebound Needs a Makeover if It’s Going to Fight Amazon

10 August 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

As independent booksellers, it’s easy to get riled up about Amazon. It’s certainly disheartening to know that amid its web services, video streaming, and grocery offerings—to name just three of its major business areas—books aren’t even close to Amazon’s sole priority. So when we see authors—in many cases authors we respect or admire—linking to Amazon on social media or their websites, it’s not uncommon for independent booksellers to boil over. I know I have. But I ask: what choice are we giving them?

Yes, we have IndieBound, and I pepper authors with their IndieBound links on Twitter. But authors want to have a place where they can see what people think of their books. A select few authors are able to see what people think when their books land on a bestseller list, literary award long- or shortlist, or best-of list. But the overwhelming majority of authors only have two ways to find out what people think: Amazon and Goodreads, which has been owned by Amazon since 2013.

On Amazon and Goodreads, users can leave ratings and written reviews. Some of these end up as comedic fodder, but most are helpful to authors who want feedback, if only in the aggregate. Many authors encourage this behavior, believing that when users leave reviews and ratings, it helps their sales (and it probably does). Independent booksellers don’t have an independent platform that authors can encourage their readers to use to provide feedback.

Amazon goes one step further on its site with its bestseller rankings.

. . . .

Authors can be forgiven if they take screenshots of those [Amazon sales] rankings or badges and splash them on their social media. After all, everyone wants to be successful. As independent booksellers, we don’t have an independent platform that provides authors with this kind of public sales data.

We could, though. Our sales reports fuel the Indie Bestseller List. This data is waiting to be segmented, chopped up, and dropped onto IndieBound for all to see. Adding a section for ratings and reviews would make IndieBound more competitive with Amazon and Goodreads.

I have brought this up to the American Booksellers Association on two occasions. To date, it has not taken action on the idea—which, honestly, is understandable. Like most of us, the ABA is overwhelmed. In addition to its normal heavy workload, it’s trying to push ambitious projects—such as a health insurance plan for booksellers and a centralized billing system for all publishers, among other initiatives—across the finish line. This year is particularly challenging for the ABA: it’s simultaneously managing all of this work and navigating a leadership change, as the organization’s CEO and CFO get set to retire. But at some point, this will need to become a priority.

. . . .

The authors whose books populate our bookstores who actually love Amazon are few and far between; I certainly haven’t met any.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG doesn’t know the author of the OP, but believes he’s likely a nice guy.


PG tried to count how many ways the OP was delusional/parochial/pathetic/wishful, etc., but didn’t have enough time.

PG did, however, wonder if any bookstore has promoted itself as “The place to find authors who don’t like Amazon.”

Presumably, this message might attract readers who don’t like Amazon.

Who knows? Perhaps it’s a niche market that everyone else has overlooked.

Elliott Completes Purchase of B&N

9 August 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

Elliott Advisors has completed its purchase of Barnes & Noble. First announced June 7, the acquisition was officially completed when more than 81% of B&N’s shares were tendered by the August 6 deadline.

As a result of the deal, B&N becomes a private company controlled by the private equity firm Elliott Advisors, which also owns the U.K. bookstore chain Waterstones. As a result of the acquisition, for which Elliott paid $6.50 per share in a deal valued at $683 million, James Daunt, head of Waterstones, will run both the U.K. chain and B&N. B&N founder Len Riggio will have no formal role in company.

In announcing the completion of the deal, Elliot said that Daunt, while continuing to serve as Waterstones CEO, will relocate from London to New York. Daunt has acknowledged that he will face a learning curving on how the American bookselling business works.

In a prepared statement, Daunt said: “This is a very good day for bookselling. Barnes & Noble is the greatest of all bookstore names and will now benefit from the support of an owner committed to physical bookselling. With investment and concentration on the core principles of good bookselling, the prospects for this extraordinary company are bright. I look forward very much to working with the booksellers at Barnes & Noble.”

In an interview with PW at the time the purchase announcement was made, Daunt said that Elliott expects to sell B&N at some point, but before they can do that, they will need to make the bookseller “shinier, bigger, and better.” To accomplish that goal, Elliott will need to make some investments.”The simple fact is that B&N needs money: people want to shop in places that look modern, clean, and inviting. The B&N stores look tired and need a little botox.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG says you won’t have Len Riggio to kick around anymore.

The new CEO is arriving from England and undoubtedly has sizeable financial incentives to quickly pretty up BN so it can be sold to yet another owner within a few years.

Talented younger persons seeking a satisfying and financially-rewarding career may wish to look elsewhere.  The new boss is going to be the old boss fairly quickly and there’s no assurance that his replacement will know much more than Daunt does about how to compete against Amazon in the United States.


The Ripped Bodice Bookstore Owners Are Bringing Their Romance Expertise to Television

1 August 2019
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Shy and retiring creature that he is, PG just learned about The Ripped Bodice.

From The Bustle:

If you’re something of a bookshop connoisseur, you’ll know all about The Ripped Bodice Bookstore in Culver City, CA — a shop entirely dedicated to selling books that fall squarely within the romance genre. Founded by sisters Bea and Leah Koch, the shop opened in 2016 after their super-successful Kickstarter campaign raised over $90,000 and quickly became a go-to destination for romance novel events and readings. Now, just two years later, the Koch sisters are taking their expertise from the shelves to the small screen.

Earlier this week, it was the announced that the duo have inked a deal with Sony Pictures Television to develop romance-based projects for TV, based on their unique position of expertise within the industry. And something tells me I’m about to have a lot more television marathon-watching in my future. According to an article in EW, the Koch’s were first approached by Sony employees at their store (apparently Sony is only blocks away from The Ripped Bodice storefront) and a partnership grew organically from there.

. . . .

After all, the romance genre has pretty much always been primarily created by and for women, but the film versions of these stories haven’t always followed suit. In 2017, most major film producers, directors and writers were still overwhelmingly male, according to statistics collected by Women & Hollywood.

Link to the rest at The Bustle

This Tiny Traveling Bookstore Wanders the French Countryside

26 July 2019
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Photo: Courtesy of La Maison Qui Chemine

Photo: Courtesy of La Maison Qui Chemine

From Architectural Digest:

Jean-Jacques Megel-Nuber’s first drawing of his imagined bookstore on wheels had little in common with its final design. “It looked like the cabins in a Christmas market,” says Megel-Nuber, who is from the Alsace region of eastern France, known for its festive seasonal markets. He had originally thought about opening a brick-and-mortar bookshop but decided he wanted one that could travel to French country towns whose bookstores have often closed. He also wanted a space where he could live during his travels.

. . . .

Today, the space in which he works and lives has a bright interior with light-colored pine bookshelves and benches. A medal cladding painted a dark blue encircling the bookstore’s entrance adds a modern edge. “He left me carte blanche,” says Pauline Fagué, a recent graduate of interior design school who helped create La Maison Qui Chemine (or “The Wandering House”) with her partner, a carpenter. At the time, the couple’s firm was so new they did not have a finished prototype, but they took on the project eagerly.

. . . .

The tiny house also had to be constructed to support a stock of around 3,000 books, weighing some 1,300 pounds. To counter the library’s weight, most of the bookshelves line the wall opposite a large metal structure surrounding the entrance.

Still, driving a bookstore through the Jura Mountain range on France’s border with Switzerland is not for the faint of heart. “It’s not complicated going up,” says Megel-Nuber with a laugh of piloting the bookshop, which is larger than a standard mobile home but smaller than a tractor-trailer. “It’s complicated to descend, because the towage is heavier than the truck’s cab.” He takes books down from upper shelves while traveling to lower the vehicle’s center of gravity.

Link to the rest at Architectural Digest

(More photos at the link)

With So Many Vacant Stores, E-Commerce Is Only Part of the Problem

21 July 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

Don’t blame all the vacant stores on e-commerce. Sky-high rents are squeezing retailers, too.

Although commercial retail rents are down from recent peaks, they haven’t fallen as fast as sales at struggling chains. The rents remain higher than prerecession levels in many prime shopping areas such as Manhattan, Los Angeles and Dallas.

In a high-profile example of this tug of war, Barneys New York Inc. has hired restructuring advisers and is considering several options including a possible bankruptcy filing, as it seeks to renegotiate the lease on its Madison Avenue flagship and other locations, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The landlord raised the annual rent on the Madison Avenue store earlier this year to $27.9 million, from $16.2 million, this person said. Barneys fought the rent increase but lost during an arbitration proceeding. Reuters earlier reported that Barneys had hired restructuring advisers.

The retailer also is looking at whether it makes sense to reduce the size of the 260,000-square-foot store.

. . . .

Landlords say it isn’t that simple. They argue retailers fueled demand with a flood of store openings coming out of the 2008 recession. And even when the landlords dangle lower rents, it is hard to tempt retailers to open stores when they are retrenching.

“We’ve cut rents by 30% and are offering all sorts of concessions, but we still have vacant space,” said William Friedland, a principal with Friedland Properties, which owns commercial real estate in Manhattan.

In other cases, though, landlords have an incentive to leave space vacant because slashing rents would violate their loan agreements, industry executives said. Moreover, any devaluation of the property would make it harder for them to borrow in the future.

“For these landlords, maintaining the valuation on their properties is more important than collecting an immediate rental stream,” said Richard Johnson, a partner in Odyssey Retail Advisors, a consulting firm that works with retailers and landlords. “It’s a waiting game, and many landlords would rather wait it out, hoping the market improves.”

Commercial rents in San Francisco are up 53% from a decade ago, and in Miami they are 46% higher, according to CBRE. Even in smaller cities, such as Nashville and San Jose, Calif., rents are up by nearly one-third.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

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