A cheery future for bookstores?

Gees, most trends seem to be contributing to a bleak outlook for traditional “bricks-and-mortar” local bookstores.

Independents are closing in droves, and even the big chains like Borders are on financially shaky ground. There’s a world-wide depression looming (if we haven’t already entered it) which will cut into consumers’ discretionary income. Online sales (Amazon et al — even the publishers are opening their own retail sites) are steadily eroding local bookstore sales. And who will need to go to a local bookstore when buying an eBook edition? We’ve already see what happened to record stores when music went digital. I expect video rental stores will be next to be phased out as obsolete and then will bookstores be next?

So what’s a local bookseller to do?

One answer is to go with their STRENGTHS: ambience, and socializing and interacting with knowledgeable people. Many of the larger bookstores have opened coffee shops (Starbucks in the Chapters-Indigo stores in Canada). One store in Michigan sells music and books — so they host popular music concerts in their cafe section. Sounds like they are onto something — and the owners are taking it to the next level with an application for a liquor license!

You can read the story in Western Michigan Business Review (http://www.mlive.com/businessreview/western/index.ssf/2008/10/grand_rapids_bookstore_tries_f.html).

According to the story by reporter Lynn Stevens, the owners of Schuler Books & Music [Schuler Books], Bill and Cecile Fehrenfeld, are applying for a beer and wine permit for one of their four stores to boost the music concert/ bookstore/ cafe attendance. Stevens’s story quotes Bill Fehrenfeld:

“It’s an interesting thing because it’s like a cheap date, in a way,” Fehsenfeld said of the weekly music performances. “It’s perfect for families with young kids — there’s no set schedule, you’re not committed for a block of time. I know a lot of people who, as couples, come out and just hang out for a Friday evening.”

I like Bill’s cheery style.

Maybe there’s hope for other bookstores. It’s the New Depression-era management mantra — when everything looks bleak: “Party on, dude!”

Cheers!

– Bruce

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