Indie Bookstores on the Rise

Here are three other examples of hot new indie booksellers:

"We are a gathering place for the community," says Kiona Gross, who left a job at CNN to open The Curious Cup, a children's bookstore in the seaside town of Carpinteria, California. Gross organized a 'shop local' day in her store on November 26, part of the American Express Small Business Saturday campaign that successfully highlighted the general public's awareness of the importance of local merchants across the country. "We strive to be community-centered. We sell tickets for the local theater, we hold chamber luncheons, and meditation classes. We are all about the community."

"Not a day passes that someone doesn't come in to say how happy they are that we're here, says Janet Geddis of the Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia which opened in September. "Loud cheers, applause, and even a teary-eyed thank you show how much people in Athens have embraced Avid Bookshop and have led us to a stronger start than I'd ever imagined," Geddis added.

Nikki Furrer, a former lawyer, opened Pudd'nhead Books in Webster Groves, MO in 2008. It was named the 2010 Riverfront Times Best Indie Bookstore in St. Louis and the 2010 St. Louis Magazine A-List and "Most Amusing Bookstore" in the St. Louis area. Furrer, a believer in indies and shopping locally, was also instrumental in developing the St. Louis Independent Booksellers Alliance. "My family has all started businesses themselves, so I knew that opening a bookstore was going to be a lot of work for not a lot of money, and it would be that way for years. But I also knew that the work would be worth it. The rewards are feeling like my work makes a real difference, watching kids and adults alike grow into readers."


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Mitzi's Books

Borders Closing, Community-Building and the Shop Local Movement

When the Borders bookstore chain closed this fall, an alarm went out about The Collapse of the American Bookstore. Now, seemingly against all odds, the opposite is happening as a new surge of independent booksellers are opening around the U.S.

Mitzi's Books, an independent bookstore in Rapid City, South Dakota opened just in time for the Thanksgiving shopping weekend. Owner Ray Hillenbrand opened the store as part of downtown Rapid City’s new Main Street Square, developed to rejuvenate the area and make it more of a shopping and entertainment destination. The square features an ice skating rink, and an adjacent remodeled brick building houses ten unique businesses.

Before this family-friendly destination could come to fruition, a few things had to fall into place, including the renovation of a few “undesirable” elements, including Video Blue, the neighborhood adult video and bookstore. When that store and two other properties came up for sale, Hillenbrand and his sister Mitzi Lally bought them.

Ironically, Lally had been a big-time Borders customer, and one of the many in Rapid City who felt they would be lost without the chain store. "When she found out Borders was closing, she was really sad," Hillenbrand says. "She said, ‘Where am I going to get books?'" When the Borders closing became a reality, Hillenbrand and Lally started thinking about their own bookstore.

Sadly, Mitzi died in August at the age of 82 of pancreatic cancer -- before designers were able to show her the final sketch of the shop, with its grand staircase leading to a mezzanine full of books. But her spirit lives on, with the name Mitzi's Main Street Books above the door.

Hillenbrand and his sister worked with Florida-based consultant to independent bookshops, Paz & Associates, on the design, stocking and management of the shop. Mitzi's Books will carry local books and a wide selection of local and Native American history books, as well as general-interest selections. The store will take advantage of their prime location and spacious setting to host book signing events, author talks and book clubs.

"The opening of Mitzi's bookstore shows how entrepreneurs and developers now regard an indie bookstore as a 'must have' in rebuilding their town centers," says Donna Paz Kaufman, who helped launch the new store. "The opportunity was perfect in Rapid City, to think about opening an independent bookstore in downtown, where there already were a plethora of independent businesses. Borders was closing at the mall, and what did people want downtown? A bookstore! So what was a blighted adult video store became Mitzi's Main Street Books along with an entire block that was transformed to be a contributing part of the community. With inventory that is hand-picked to suit the needs of its local customers and events that bring the community together, a locally-owned bookstore can provide a special sense of place."

To help continue this trend from chain store to indie, Paz & Associates run a five-day bookselling school for booksellers in training. "Now is an excellent time to open an independent bookstore. The demise of Borders has created both demand and opportunity for an all-new variation of an old-fashioned independent bookstore -- small, cozy places with a sense of community and neighborhood that creates local connection.”

“Consumer surveys consistently show that locally-owned independent bookstores are one of the most desirable businesses. Many people who are attracted to the bookstore businesses are community-minded people and this was certainly the case with Mitzi's. For business people like Ray Hillenbrand, all it took was a clear opportunity and Borders closing provided the perfect opening."

Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, agrees. "It's not just the closing of Borders that is fueling the resurgence of independent bookstores, but a more complex array of factors including the growing national acceptance of the ‘shop local’ movement; an extraordinary level of innovative and creative entrepreneurship; a sophisticated use of social networking; easier access to Small Business Administration loans; a willingness to adapt to changing retail trends including selling both print and digital books online; and, most importantly, continuing to be an unmatched source of credible information about books and authors."

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See more photos of the opening of Mitzi’s Books (Photo credits: Donna Paz Kaufman)

More about Paz & Associates Bookseller Training Workshops