There’s nothing like stepping inside a bookstore and walking past towering bookshelves filled with hundreds of titles hoping to catch your eye. But with the arrival of the digital age, some bookstores are facing the threat of extinction.
Bookstores are disappearing everywhere, with the second largest bookstore chain in the country, Borders, announcing this July that it will close all of its stores. Even the largest bookstore chain, Barnes & Noble, has been forced to close all of its 798 B. Dalton mall stores and is planning to close six to 10 superstores each year for the next three years.
With the demise of chain stores, you would think small, independent bookstores would have no chance of surviving. But a few locally-owned bookstores in Louisville are doing their best to stay alive, and have found a way to coexist with the competition from Internet sellers, Kindles, Nooks and iPads.
Carmichael’s Bookstore has not one, but two stores (1295 Bardstown Road and 2720 Frankfort Ave.) that are doing well.
“It’s the whole local shop movement,” said Carol Besse, who owns Carmichael’s with her husband, Michael Boggs. “The people who shop here understand that we need their support. The people who go online and shop don’t make that connection between investing in their community.”
The staff at Carmichael’s, which has been in business for 33 years, includes three of the owners’ family members, as well as a few other full-time and part-time employees. Though they have a small staff, they enjoy getting a chance to know their customers.
“It’s great because you get to talk to people about books and ideas,” Boggs said. “And there is just a huge amount of satisfaction in recommending a book to somebody who comes back and tells you, ‘I loved that.’ ”
A Reader’s Corner, 2044 Frankfort Ave., is another shop that has continued to thrive. In business since 1997, it just relocated to the Clifton area in July. The store offers new, used, rare and out-of-print books in almost every category, and typically special orders new books that are shipped within two to three days.
Judy Fout, who owns A Reader’s Corner with her husband, Tim Fout, said her staff’s ability to connect with customers is what has kept her bookstore ahead of the competition.
“What separates independent bookstores from the big chains is the customer service aspect,” Fout said. “I think there’s so much bureaucracy at big-box stores. The focus is not really on the customer. I look at this as sort of a ministry. At a store like ours, you get to know people and their families. They tell you their problems. You have to be careful to balance that, but part of the attraction to local stores is that personal attention.”
The interaction with customers is one aspect that online buying does not offer. Though online book sales are increasing, Besse believes buying from bookstores gives customers another added benefit: the chance to experience what she calls “serendipity.”
“When you come into our store, you’re probably going to find something that you didn’t know that you wanted because it’s there staring you in the face,” Besse said. “When you’re online, you’re less likely to stumble upon something that interests you. You usually already know what you want when you’re shopping online and only look for that.”
Amazon reported last December that it had sold 8 million Kindle e-book readers to beat out “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” as their best selling item ever. While electronic readers have been doing well in sales, Besse believes there is still an audience interested in the printed word.
However, Carmichael’s also has attempted to adapt to the changing industry by partnering with Google Books, which allows customers to buy e-books on the bookstore’s website. Some customers come to Carmichael’s to find e-books for their electronic readers, but there also is a trend with certain types of books that customers only want in printed form.
“The one thing it seems that no one wants to do is to read picture books to their children on an electronic device,” Boggs said. “There’s something about the romance of sitting down with ‘Goodnight Moon’ and having the physical book and turning the pages because everyone has been raised with their mom or dad reading the book and pointing and turning the pages.”
Besse is optimistic about the continuance of printed books and local booksellers.
“We believe in printed books, and we believe there is a long-time future for printed books,” Besse said. “And that is going to be our core business. I don’t think (e-books) are going to entirely replace printed books ever. I truly believe the tide is sort of turning from big-box stores to small, independently owned stores.”
photos by ASHLEY ANDERSON | Voice-Tribune
Category: Cover Stories
About the Author (Author Profile)
Ashley spends half her time writing stories at The Voice-Tribune office and half her time out on the town conducting interviews, while occasionally dressing in wild outfits to fully immerse herself in the experience (aka Princess Leia at Comic Con). Ashley is a huge UofL fan and loves the Yankees and the Boston Celtics (she is fully aware of the irony). She hopes to one day outshine Erin Andrews on ESPN and enjoys running, Bardstown Road/Fourth Street, Breaking Bad and reality TV (she’s not ashamed to admit that).