Local bookstores doing very well, thank you

Apr 8, 2013

Bookstore sign in Kalamazoo welcomes customers
Credit WMUK

The impending death of bookstores, and even printed books, has long been predicted. But MLive Kalamazoo reporter Yvonne Zipp says the funeral notices may have been sent too soon.

Some large national chains like Borders have gone under. But in a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, Zipp says many independent, locally-owned bookstores are doing very well. She says there are several reasons for their success. One is the demise of Borders which sent customers in some cities into the waiting arms of independents. Another is the growth of the “buy local” movement around the country. Zipp says it has helped locally owned businesses of all kinds, not just bookstores. The rise of social media and other technology has also greatly reduced costs for things like publicity and inventory control.

But, let’s face it: bookstores are not just any other kind of business. Zipp says a certain mystique attaches to books and the stores that sell them. And she says most bookstore owners are acutely aware that they need the support of their communities.

Cultivating that support these days means more than having a friendly cat and offering a soft chair and coffee. Zipp says bookstores stage book-signing events with authors and other activities. Some even run summer camps and basketball leagues. There are now bookstores with wine bars. Others sell goodies like locally-made chocolate.

Another factor is an apparent drop in popularity of e-book readers like the Kindle from Amazon or the Nook at Barnes & Noble. Zipp says she and some other readers tried e-books but decided in the end that they prefer the physical thing.

Running an independent bookstore isn’t a license to print money, though. Profit margins are tight and the work is hard. Zipp says the days of the “hobby” bookstores run by people whose love of reading outpaced business savvy are mostly gone.

Zipp says southwestern Michigan is better off than many other areas of the country. In Kalamazoo there are Kazoo Books, Michigan News Agency, Bookbug, and the Bicentennial Bookshop. Three Rivers has Lowry’s Books and in South Haven there is Black River Books.