The bookstore economy: Looking to the future of book brick-and-mortars in the county
Editor’s note: An earlier version incorrectly stated Jenny’s Paper & Ink Books was for sale. Owner Jenny Wells says the business is not for sale, but is closing. The Union regrets the error.
Jenny’s Paper & Ink Books is closing.
The lease for the Grass Valley building is up in January, according to the store owner.
It’s the second bookstore in Grass Valley to put its book business on the market or close its doors this past year. The Open Book announced it was up for sale in July.
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Jenny Wells, the owner of Jenny’s Paper & Ink Books, said she was approached by owners of The Open Book back in Thanksgiving, with them raising the possibility of merging stores.
Wells declined because of the bottom line: “There’s just no money in it,” she said.
The bookstore has been for sale since January, said Wells, but not because people don’t like buying books. They especially like contemporary novels, historical nonfiction and science fiction. Rather, she said, people don’t want to pay more than a few dollars for romance and thriller books.
“I have had sales decrease every year, and I did see that in the last couple tax returns,” said Wells. “The reality is, it’s really a difficult business model to make any profit at.”
One of the tricky things for retail bookstore owners, said Wells, is the ability to make the public aware of the service they provide. That is, there needs to be a greater appreciation for clean, alphabetized books and the unique, presentable space a physical bookstore offers.
Until that happens, said Wells, bookstore owners must constantly reinvent their shops with the latest books customers can’t find elsewhere.
“There’s a lot of bitter used bookstore owners out there,” she said. “They just feel like they’re fighting for every penny.”
Stacey Colin, owner of Nevada City’s Harmony Books, agreed.
“I get what they say,” she said of other bookstore owners. “It’s just pretty much impossible.”
For Colin, who has run her business for 22 years, each year is worse than the one before it.
That’s not the same for all local bookstores, like Grass Valley’s Booktown Books, according to collective member Karen Wright. She said the total experience of the nine collective members of the store stretches 300 years, which helps — in addition to not needing more employees.
“I think the major thing is we don’t have to hire anyone,” said Wright, adding that they have “a little bit of just about everything.”
Two individuals from France, Nicolas and Eleanora Albin, said they frequent Booktown Books whenever they visit the county. The two said they believe it’s the best bookstore they’ve ever visited.
On a larger scale, retail shops are struggling. According to The Washington Post, about 75,000 stores in the U.S. selling clothes, gadgets and furniture will close by 2026.
Bookstores have not totally escaped this trend.
Large retail bookstore Barnes & Noble closed 90 of its stores from 2011 to 2018 in large part because Amazon began to dominate the online sale of books, according to an Axios article.
Barnes & Noble, for its part, is now trying to localize its stores, making them more amenable to the desires of the community in which they sit, according to The Wall Street Journal.
This tactic has been endorsed by local bookstore and retail owners.
Grass Valley’s The Book Seller has maintained its success, said manager Angie Kelsey, due to its ability to adapt and engage the community. It participates in school events, does community service projects, stocks required reading books for schools, engages the local literary community and has a section dedicated to local history, said Kelsey.
“What we can offer what Amazon can’t is personal service (and) customization,” she said.
Kelsey said she has her nine employees use social media to remain vigilant to the desires of local book readers. The store also receives new stock every day to maintain relevancy.
“That’s the name of the game when you work retail,” she said. “There are ups and downs and you just have to try new things.”
Auburn’s Winston Smith Books Owner Glen Sewell agreed.
“It’s a constant effort,” said Sewell, who tries to sell 50 books per day — meaning that every day he tries to find 50 books to add to his store.
Sewell said he goes to peoples’ homes and receives donations in an effort to always refresh his book stock and stay relevant.
The business, he said, is very tough, one he couldn’t do without also working as an insurance agent.
Still, he’s optimistic that neighborhoods will always have bookstores. They are relaxing spaces, he said, and humbling, like a hallmark to the Enlightenment Period, reminding people of what they don’t know.
“When I’m in the store, I have the whole world with me,” he said.
In June, Dimple Records, located in Sacramento and its metro area, decided to soon close shop.
The decision to close the 45-year-old retail business was manifold, according to Andrew Radakovitz, the son and an employee of the mom-and-pop store.
His parents wanted to retire, he said, and there was too much intra-competition (multiple Dimple Records stores are located in a small radius).
But Radakovitz, who said he has a lease in Folsom to start his own collectible retail shop called The Cave, is also optimistic about the future of retail. As long as, he said, stores know how to play the game.
“You have to evolve all the time,” he said, “and you have to be like a cockroach, and you have to find ways to adapt to survive.”
Thrift stores — better described as sift stores, he said — can achieve success if they are buying, selling and trading under one roof, and diversifying their products to include niche comics, music goods, books and more that remind people of childhood pop-culture moments.
“Our culture doesn’t want to grow up — and that’s not a bad thing necessarily,” he said. Radakovitz believes Japan has been a model for affective retail engagement of pop-culture that should be replicated in the U.S.
He believes collective sift stores, filled with a variety of unique products, are the future.
“I think it’s going to be the next big wave of experimental retail.”
To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4219.
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