Jack’s weekly guest blog
“Oh, some poo’er the giftie gi’e us, tae see oorsels as ithers see us” (Robert Burns)
(Oh that some power the gift would give us, to see ourselves as others see us.)
Over the last few months it’s been interesting to read the number of articles about the resurgence of independent bookstores around the country and see how Wendy’s book and our experiences have fit in. And to sit back and watch, with small “we told you so smirks” playing on our faces, how many people who thought just three years ago that bookstores were “dinosaurs” are now eating crow served up by brontosaurus waiters and waitresses.
Yes, we might be gloating slightly on that point….
On Sunday past the Boston Globe ran an article on wealthy retirees looking to ‘fulfill their dream’ of running a bookstore someday by buying ready-made shops that had gone ‘belly up’. (I’m sure many of them worked with their communities to support the previous owners, like folks elsewhere.)
It wasn’t clear from the article whether these were new-book stores or used-book stores and that has a certain bearing on their success potential, as does whether they are in buildings with mortgages or rents. As Wendy said in her talk for Books TV, “my advice to people wanting to open a bookshop starts with: don’t pay rent for a separate building. And you need to like people as much as you like books.”
That’s another key element, liking people, because you need to invite them in for community events –not just author signings, but actual hub activity. Invite all sorts of people, for all sorts of reasons tied to books. Give them needlework nights, game nights, astronomy nights, illustrator nights, nights of fun and flaming passion – well, fun, anyway.
While we were in Nashville at Southern Festival of the Book we chatted with Ethan Watters, author of Urban Tribes. He is from San Francisco and was telling us about someone who had bought an existing bookstore out there planning to do just that–make it into a ‘community hub’ and thus keep it alive and thriving. This is an approach dear to our heart and also, we believe, one the great ‘unique selling points’ (MBA-speak; excuse me) of bookstores. It’s why we matter. It’s why we’re thriving.
The Globe article might focus a bit more on wealthy people in upmarket areas than on the small town shops Wendy and I saw in our 2011 Booking Down the Road Trip, or have heard from in the community of independent bookstore owners banding together since then, but our observations remain the same: those prepared to work hard and find fun in that will love running a bookstore. And they will understand one our favorite sayings: there are those who are rich, and then there are those who have a lot of money.
I do wonder, with a sympathetic grin, if those buying bookstores know what they’re letting themselves in for. We didn’t, when we started. Which leads me to another Scots saying: “Weel ye ken noo!”