A day after hearing that Joseph Beth Booksellers filed Chapter 11 Bankruptcy and that they would be closing a number of their stores by mid-December, I visited the Legacy Village store in Beachwood (near Cleveland), Ohio. The store is one of the more esthetically beautiful bookstores that you will ever visit. It has an open, airy feel with the mezzanine level looking out over the first floor, and the natural light from the windows of the south entrance flowing through the large room decorated much like a country home living room. There is also a cafe and free wifi, which is also a staple of the other larger bookstore chains. Joseph Beth, however, is a much smaller bookstore chain than the Big Two, all of whom have seen their own share of struggles to remain competitive in the age of Amazon, and now ebooks and iPads. With JB’s bankruptcy filing, it will soon be closing half of its existing stores, and it’s a real shame. I was mildly surprised to see the large number of customers in the store due to the news that the store would close soon. Hindsight being 20/20, it made me wonder if there could have been a difference if more people had consistently patronized the bookstore. To be honest, probably not.
The brick and mortar stores, like Joseph Beth, are slowly fading away due to the stiff, and sometimes crippling competition, of companies such as Amazon.com and even eBay, where you can easily search for and find new or sometimes used books and music for much less than items in the store (and sometimes the store items require a special order). The music section profitability with is being squeezed by iTunes convenience and more Amazon. The convenience of internet shopping has also had an adverse effect on floor traffic and store dollars spent per customer. For the most part, these stores have done just about everything that they can to remain relevant. You can only do so much, however, to control inventory and prices. Too little inventory will drive a customer to the internet. Too much inventory will squeeze tight profit margins away. As internet shopping increases every year, these stores must also be more internet friendly to their customers and use both in-store and online purchases to maintain profitability.
Bookstores has evolved over the years from the small, quiet street shops where you could browse for titles in quaint, narrow isles of bookcases to the larger boxes in enclosed malls to today’s version of the book superstore with music, magazines, gifts, and a coffee shop under one roof. Today’s stores are the most user-friendly for this generation of book lovers. They are geared for both the traditional hard cover readers as well as the younger ebook readers, and almost everyone who patronizes these stores will take advantage of their late hours or use of the wifi in the coffee shop to do research or web surf. They’re even a great place to meet someone for the first time. For me, the bookstore is a place of refuge and even nostalgia. It really is a place where time can stand still, at least for a little while, and where you can enjoy the experience. There is nothing that can replace the experience of sitting in a comfortable chair reading one of your favorite books, or sitting at a cafe with the sound of a cappuccino machine in the background as you browse over a few travel books or magazines.
I hope that all of the bookstore lovers will see the importance of supporting the remaining stores to the best of their ability. We want to keep them, and their employees who need the work, open as long as possible, before they go the way of the mimeograph or the electric typewriter.
Copyright © Melvin Gaines. For more content, please see melvingaines.com and melvingaines.blogspot.com.