Literary Tourism: Eastern Iowa, With Indie Bookstores Galore

7 October 2019

From BookRiot:

I’m a proud Midwesterner, and have loved to call Iowa my home for the past ten years. Iowa is full of lovely towns, both large and small, that have a locally owned independent bookstore on the main street or town square. We’re also a literary and arts hub, due to Iowa City, with its UNESCO City of Literature designation and the famous  University of Iowa Writers Workshop.

Today I’m going to take you on a literary tour of the eastern part of our state and highlight the best spots for readers and book lovers along the way.


Cedar Rapids Public Library: In 2008, the city of Cedar Rapids suffered a terrible flood that found most of downtown underwater. The downtown public library completely flooded, but the city used the opportunity to rebuild to create an exceptional new library. The library is Platinum LEED Certified for sustainability measures incorporated in the design, and in 2017, the library won the Institute of Museum and Library Services National Medal for Museum and Library Service. This library is definitely worth a wander!

. . . .

Next Page Books: Next Pages Books is an independently owned bookstore in the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District (see: the coolest part of Cedar Rapids). The little shop is warm and inviting, located inside a larger arts and culture building. The owner, Bart, is always ready to chat about books, and his bookstore cat, Frank, is silly and delightful. If you’re in Cedar Rapids, please go visit my hometown faves!

. . . .


Burlington by the Book: Located in southeast Iowa, near the Mississippi, Burlington by the Book is another lovely independent bookstore. They sell both new and used books, and the proceeds from the used books go toward purchase new books for children.


Prairie Lights: Prairie Lights has been the indie bookstore for the literary hub of Iowa City since 1978. Today it is three stories, including a wonderful cafe. The bookstore frequently hosts readings of Iowa Writers Workshop graduates and others, including writers like Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, E.E. Cummings, and Stephen King. It’s an incredible bookstore, plus I met my husband there so it will always get a winning endorsement from me!

Self-Guided Literary Tour: Iowa City has put together a self-guided literary tour of all the famous stops, including the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the dorm where Flannery O’Connor lived during her time in Iowa.

Mission Creek Festival (annually in April): Mission Creek is a six day art, music, and literature festival in Iowa City. They “embrace live performance, literary arts, and radical community happenings,” and host readings, panels, a literary magazine and small press book fair, and a Lit Walk that will take you to loads of cool and local stops in Iowa City for readings. I’ve seen Roxane Gay and R.O. Kwon read at recent festivals and it is always a quality line-up.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

B&N’s James Daunt Isn’t Daunted At All

23 September 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

If the fortunes of Barnes & Noble are going to be turned around—and new CEO James Daunt is confident they will be—the improvement will be led by the company’s booksellers. In an interview at B&N’s flagship bookstore in New York City, Daunt repeatedly stressed that the makeover of the company will be done by empowering store managers and other booksellers to create stores that meet the needs of their local communities. “The bookseller in North Dakota knows what the customer wants better than someone in New York,” Daunt said, adding that managers won’t be held hostage by planograms from New York when determining how a store should be stocked.

While all buying will still be done from New York (publishers will not need to have reps call on individual stores, as some had thought), managers will be free to display books where they want, order them in the quantities they need, and merchandise them appropriately. Under the new operating philosophy, store managers will be given more responsibility for the performance of their stores. “They won’t be able to say the store isn’t doing well because the people in New York don’t know what they are doing,” Daunt said.

Daunt acknowledged that the change will almost certainly lead to sales declines at a few stores, but he said he is confident that B&N’s booksellers have the ability to create successful stores. He brought that message to the B&N store managers conference held in Orlando last week.

If booksellers are key to reinvigorating B&N, better merchandising is not far behind. Daunt believes that the B&N look has grown stale. “You can’t be a successful chain if you follow a single model,” he said. “Chain stores are exciting when they are shiny and new, but they don’t age well. You need to evolve.”

Professional booksellers are in the best position to create attractive, effective bookstores, Daunt noted (he has been in the bookselling business for almost 30 years). Hiring a designer who works on a Target one week and a Costco the next week isn’t the best route when designing a bookstore, he added. “It takes a special skill”—one learned on the bookstore floor.

. . . .

Though Tim Mantel, B&N’s chief merchandising officer, was let go last month, and longtime senior v-p of corporate communications Mary Ellen Keating’s last day was September 13, Daunt said he doesn’t envision making wholesale changes in the executive team.

. . . .

Daunt made it clear his initial focus will be on improving B&N’s physical stores. “If you improve the stores, everything else will rise,” he said. He has no plans to discontinue the Nook line as long as the devices keep pace with the Kindle. As for, he believes its performance can be improved, in part, by improving the site’s content. He thinks B&N’s relatively new buy online and pick up in store program has the makings of a hit . . . .

. . . .

Daunt isn’t phased by running both Waterstones and B&N, but he will spend most of his time in the U.S.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG notes that, stylistically, it is almost always (or perhaps just always) a bad idea to attempt to make a pun out of a person’s name.

PG also notes that using the word, “phased” where you should have known to use “fazed” demonstrates that, in your past, you spent way too much time watching Star Trek [not Star Wars, thanks, M] reruns and not enough time paying attention in English class.

“If you improve the stores, everything else will rise.”

PG doesn’t think so. He also doubts the stores will improve if Daunt cuts back on salary expenses as many have predicted he will.

See, for example,

The Barnes & Noble Buyout: A Godsend For Book Readers And Investors

27 August 2019

From Forbes:

Book lovers, give thanks. Barnes & Noble is saved, as a deep-pockets acquirer steps up to revive the troubled bookseller. If the company had gone under, it would be a gut shot to the publishing industry. And readers. Yes, Amazon, the goliath of book peddling with half the print book market, would gobble up more market share. But a major provider would be lost if B&N vanished, and book sales overall would suffer.

. . . .

Remember the movie You’ve Got Mail, the 1998 rom-com in which Meg Ryan’s character owns a sweet little children’s bookshop that is threatened when corporate giant Foxbooks opens an outlet across the street? That story had a happy ending in that Ryan and Tom Hanks, playing the heir of the Foxbooks empire, became a couple and, while her shop closed, she ended up running the children’s section for Foxbooks.

Well, in the 21st century, Amazon chieftain Jeff Bezos and Barnes & Noble founder Leonard Riggio aren’t about to start a romance. Bezos has waged scorched-earth warfare. Amazon, with its even larger book selection and ease of shopping, has shredded B&N, along with other book chains. Borders, the No. 2 bookseller chain, closed in 2011.

Barnes & Noble has been on a long retreat. Over the past decade, it shuttered 150 outlets, and now has 627. Revenue and profits have shrunk. In the past four years, the stock price has plummeted by a third (that includes the Elliott run-up). The company has been a revolving door for chief executives. Last summer, it fired the fourth one in five years. Aside from closing outlets, B&N has struggled to find a strategy that worked. It now also sells toys and other junky non-book merchandise, to little effect.

. . . .

Despite these challenges, Daunt and the Elliott juggernaut are arriving at a propitious time for physical books. Turns out that e-books, once thought to be the death of paperbound volumes, are ebbing in popularity, and printed books are making a modest comeback. According to Publishers Weekly, they rose 1.3% in unit sales last year, to 695 million.

Polls show people increasingly like books made from trees, even the electronics-obsessed younger set. Perhaps as a respite from a life spent staring at screens. Who knows?

Link to the rest at Forbes

As an abstract proposition, PG thinks it would be good for readers and indie authors (and probably Amazon) if Amazon had a high-quality, well-funded competitor in bookselling.

However, PG doesn’t think a re-skinned Barnes & Noble, still filled with low-wage clerks, is that competitor.

PG is a bit skeptical about consumer surveys that poo-poo ebooks and their attractiveness to serious readers. However, he could be wrong.

Has anyone seen a recent (last three months or so) survey sponsored by a party without its survival on the line (the American Booksellers Association need not apply) and conducted by a reputable market research organization (Nielsen, Kantar, IRI, Gallup), that has measured consumer purchasing/reading habits in the US or elsewhere?

If so, please put a link in the comments or you can send it privately to PG via the Contact page –

What Happened to Barnes And Noble And What’s In Store For The Chain

27 August 2019

From Book Riot:

For more than a decade, we’ve been hearing about how Amazon has been the death of bookstores all across the country. And yet Barnes and Noble has been creeping along for years after the closures of other behemoth bookstore chains such as Borders and Crown Books. But in the last few years, Barnes and Noble, too, appeared to be failing. It is quite true that Amazon still corners more than 50% of the market shares in physical book sales, but is Amazon really to blame for the company’s failure? Or did Barnes and Noble lose sight of its original purpose?

. . . .

The last time I went into a Barnes and Noble, this past winter in my hometown, Milwaukee, WI, the entire downstairs was taken up with games, cards, art supplies, music, Starbucks, and other non-book merchandise. Sure, you still have the magazine section and small front display of current bestsellers. There were also some tables boasting old titles on sale for under $5. Overall there was an overwhelming air of sadness and failure. In order to find most of the books, you had to go upstairs. I had a list of about five books that I wanted to track down. I wandered the stacks for a few minutes and struck out on each one. When I finally gave up and asked for help, I ticked through each selection one by one and the increasingly apologetic bookseller confirmed that they carried none of the books I was looking for.

. . . .

Barnes and Noble, once enemy number of one of independent bookstores around the country, met an ironic fate with the rise of Amazon. B&N operated on a model of being the big box store of books, carrying so many titles at such a high volume that they could offer lower prices than any independent bookstore could ever match. Amazon simply beat them at their own game. B&N responded by trying to get in on the ebook craze and created their ereader, the NOOK. While the logic was certainly there, this was, ultimately, a failed venture, losing the company more than a billion dollars.

. . . .

While the closure of B&N certainly would have been catastrophic for the publishing industry, which still relies on these larger booksellers, the trend in bookselling has been turning around in the past couple of years. We are starting to see more independent bookstores opening across the country and thriving. And even ebooks, often touted as the death kiss to physical books, are becoming less popular and giving way to printed books.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

As a reminder, PG doesn’t always agree with the items he posts on TPV.

Indigo Reports First Quarter Decline

22 August 2019

From Yahoo Finance:

Indigo Books & Music Inc. (CNW Group/Indigo Books & Music Inc.)

Revenue for the first quarter ended June 29, 2019 was $192 .6 million compared to $205.4 million for the same period last year, a decrease of $12.8 million . This decline in sales was the result of a strategic shift to reduce promotional activity to improve profitability and eliminate unprofitable sales.

. . . .

Additionally, the general merchandise business continues to be affected by softer discretionary spending in certain categories core to the Company, while the book business has sustained historical trends.

Commenting on the results, 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. We remain confident in our investments over the long term and in the steps we are taking.”

Indigo reported a net loss of $19.1 million ( $0.69 net loss per common share) compared to a net loss of $15.4 million ( $0.57 net loss per common share) last year. This decline in profitability was attributed to the decline in sales and restructuring costs, partially offset by lower selling, administrative and other expenses as the Company continues its cost-cutting initiatives.

Link to the rest at Yahoo Finance

How does an independent bookstore survive for 90 years?

16 August 2019
Comments Off on How does an independent bookstore survive for 90 years?

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.

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