Local Success

Author Ann Patchett is an enthusiastic new voice in the anti-amazon, pro-local bookstore scene. And she’s not all words: along with co-owner Karen Hayes, she opened a small, successful independent book store in her hometown, called Parnassus Books.

From her recent article in The Atlantic:

Two years ago, the city of Nashville had two bookstores. One was Davis-Kidd, which had been our much-beloved locally owned and operated independent before selling out to the Ohio-based Joseph-Beth Booksellers chain 15 years earlier. Joseph-Beth moved Davis-Kidd into a mall, provided it with 30,000 square feet of retail space, and put wind chimes and coffee mugs and scented candles in front of the book displays. We continued to call it our “local independent,” even though we knew that wasn’t really true anymore. …

In December 2010, Davis-Kidd closed. It was profitable, declared the owners from Ohio, who were dismantling the chain, but not profitable enough. Then, in May 2011, our Borders store—also profitable—went the way of all Borders stores. Nashvillians woke up one morning and found that we no longer had a bookstore.

How had this happened? Had digital books led us astray? Had we been lured away by the siren song of Amazon’s underpricing? Had we been careless, failing to support the very places that had hosted our children’s story hours and brought in touring authors and set up summer-reading tables? Our city experienced a great collective gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, but to what extent was Nashville to blame? Both of the closed stores had been profitable. …

See also: her interview on The Colbert Report, and more about local bookstores on this blog.

Buying Local

I try to buy the media I consume locally. Luckily, that’s pretty easy to do in Philly.

I buy almost all of my books from Headhouse Books. I even order books they don’t have in stock on their website, and then go to the store to pick it up. It’s nominally more expensive and slightly less convenient. I like supporting local bookstores, and I like getting a call letting me know my book is ready to be picked up. They make it easy to support local business.

Contrast that with my recent experience trying to buy the new Sufjan Stevens Christmas album {spotify} for a friend at my local record store. There’s no way to place an order on their site, so I called them up on Friday, asking if they have the CD in stock.

“Let me check… nope, it’s not on the shelf… well, it might be in one of these boxes here, but I’m not allowed to open them up… why don’t you call back Monday,” an employee who sounded like he just woke up informed me.

So I call back on Monday, they check the shelf again, realize it’s not in stock, and tell me that it might be back in stock on Friday. Great.

The point of this story isn’t to bitch about a bad customer service experience. I’m just saying that maybe it’s not just competition from amazon that’s dooming local businesses. For businesses with limited shelf space (which is every place, compared to amazon), find a way around it. It’s not difficult to meet the customer half way.