Does The Independent Bookstore Have A Future?

We have also noted before that independent and specialty bookstores are a labour of love, a dying breed, a money pit, a host of clichés, under pressure from big box retailers, Amazon and now the e-reader. Yet we have also noted how important the small independent retailer is to a viable main street and a walkable community. I can't pass an independent bookstore without checking it out, trying to figure out what it takes to stay alive in this business. In St. John's, Newfoundland, I was drawn into the Bookery on Signal Hill.

Proprietor Russell Floren tells us in the oldest house in Newfoundland, confirmed by the plaque on the exterior. I tend to judge a store these days on its collection of green and environmental books, as I am more on top of what is out there than I am about design books, and it was very strong.

Floren is doing everything one has to do in a community bookstore; he has a coffee bar and sells baked goods (the store used to be called Sweet Relic and was more about food than books).

bookstore owner from Lloyd Alter on Vimeo.

I asked Russell what he thought the future of the independent bookstore is; his key point is curation, the shop has to be special, different, and a reflection of the curator. The audience is attracted by the choices, the idiosyncrasies of the owner; Russell says he probably couldn't give away a John Grisham book to his user base. He sells a lot of poetry, saying "that's not something you want to read on a Kindle, you want to feel it."

Coincidently I participated in an example of community engagement in action; Craig Francis Power's launch for his first novel, Blood Relatives, was washed out by Hurricane Igor, so he did a reading at the Bookery. It attracted a crowd, almost all of whom bought a copy. I caught a few minutes of it:

author from Lloyd Alter on Vimeo.

Ultimately there is a contradiction here. We love the convenience of the online download, and talk about how much greener it is to send bits instead of paper. We promote the idea of living with less with your life in your hard drive.

Yet we also talk about the viability of our main streets and the importance of local, independent business, Smallmart vs Walmart. We promote the quirky individuality and creativity that comes from the small shop instead of the big multinational.

I will think about the Bookery, Craig Francis Power and the people in that back yard the next time Jaymi shows me an e-reader.
More on books vs e-readers in TreeHugger
1 in 10 Americans Own an e-Reader, and Read More Than The Rest of Us
e-Reader Chart Compares iPad, Kindle, Nook and More, Makes Shopping A Little Easier
CES 2010 - eReaders Go Bonkers At CES, Sales Expected to Double...Should We Be Scared?
More on Bookstores:
Ballenford Books 1979-2008
Church Converted into Bookshop

Tags: Books