While the day of the small independent bookstore may not yet be over, I find the odds to be so heavily in favor of failure that I almost certainly won't be risking any of my savings in an attempt to live my bookstore dream. I've seen several such ventures open and close in the last two years just in my section of north Houston and, while some of them did appear to be under funded from the start, they seemed to fail more often than not because of the high rents charged to them when their original leases expired.
But thankfully, some brave folks do seem to be surviving, if not necessarily thriving, in their own quests to live the dream.
Back in the dim, distant days of 1997, Amazon.com was just getting its feet wet. That same year, three ambitious Manhattan business people entered waters not easily survived. Cliff Simms, his wife Dorothea von Moltke and Chris Doeblin opened a book shop - Labyrinth Books - near Columbia University in New York City....
Statistics can help to put this bold move into perspective: In 2006, 97 new independent booksellers opened shop in the United States - and more than 100 independent bookstores closed.
Indy proprietors are delighted that the gap is closing.
The new shop didn't go over too well with Yale University, since it introduced direct competition to its designated Barnes & Noble bookseller. Even without Yale's support, Labyrinth Books has weathered the storm. Soon, it might even reach profitability....
Though a balance sheet scripted in black ink would be nice, co-principal Dorothea von Moltke admits that although it has taken a while to find their footing, business is on the ascendant.
To von Moltke (Yale College '90), "New Haven is a town with rhythms that you have to figure out. Working with the Yale calendar and around events in the city is something we've been working on."
Katie Trumpener, an English and comparative literature professor at Yale, supports independent booksellers such as Labyrinth Books.I honestly do believe that independent bookstores provide a service to their communities that none of the big chain bookstores are capable of providing. In order to survive, independents will have to become part of the community, not just a storefront that rents space there. It is all about service, community goodwill and being much more than just a retailer. My local Barnes & Noble makes an effort in that direction but will forever be limited by what the corporate powers will allow. Now if I could just find a couple of rich partners to bankroll me...
"With a chain bookstore, somebody far away is choosing, somewhat generically, what books will be available to people based on whatever has sold elsewhere," asserts Trumpener. "The independent bookseller has an independent frame of reference and is going to be gearing its stock much more closely to the local community. That is important in providing a framework with books that people might never otherwise come across."