Don’t close the book on them yet

Independent and used bookstores still have staying power, owners say

  • A fresh and diverse book stock, along with online marketing, help keep secondhand bookstores up-to-date and in business, says Aimee Peake, owner of Bison Books. – Cheyenne Rae

Aimee Peake has seen many bookstores close their doors in the 11 years she’s been in the business.

As the owner of Bison Books, one of several well-established used bookstores in Winnipeg’s core, Peake has survived the marketing slump that has threatened to consume small bookstores throughout the city.

While blame is often put on the ebook trend and popularity of big box bookstores, Peake said smaller stores need a certain amount of adaptability to stay in business.

“Historically a lot of bookstores have been part of this cliché, you think of the elderly gentleman owner with the pipe who’s cranky and rude to customers,” said Peake.

“If you’re that way now, you’re going to fail.”

Good customer service skills, a fresh and diverse book stock, along with online marketing help keep secondhand bookstores up-to-date and in business, she said.

Ebooks appeal to a certain crowd, but Peake doubts they will be able to replace the physical book.

“There’s always a market for signed books, rare books, first editions, collectibles, leather-bound books ... those things aren’t going anywhere,” she said.

“You can’t replicate the experience of opening a beautiful old book on an electronic device.”

McNally Robinson
1120 Grant Ave.

One independent bookstore that has taken advantage of the ebook market is McNally Robinson.

Ebooks are just one of the many products McNally has to offer to prop up its bottom line.

“We’ve always been diversified - sold giftware, had a restaurant, sold music (and) we hold events, too,” said Chris Hall, McNally’s senior inventory manager.

“No one shops in physical stores now, but we’re a place to go beyond shopping.”

However, Hall noted Google has announced it is ending its partnership with independent stores. McNally will have to find another way to stay in the ebook market by January of next year.

McNally opened 15 years ago, about the time the book market exploded. Now it may be at its saturation point, said Hall.

“For the first eight years (we were open), book sales were booming. People were finding books they never knew existed. Now, people have a lot of books they have yet to read that they bought over these years,” he said.

Red River Book Shop
92 Arthur St.

Dennis Boyko has gone from selling records to cassettes to CDs and VHS tapes to DVDs in the 35 years he’s been selling used books and media out of the Red River Book Shop.

But Boyko isn’t sure how to approach ebooks as a used bookstore.

“Is it possible to sell used ebooks?” Boyko said. “What are the rights on that?”

At this point, any damage ebooks could do to the physical book market has already been done. He doesn’t plan to fret over such an unpredictable trend.

“It’s a threat out there the same way that getting cancer or being struck by lightning might be,” Boyko said. “Revenue is down, but I wouldn’t say we’re suffering.”

Book Fair
340 Portage Ave.

Judy Weselowski opened Book Fair in 1977.

While sales have been suffering lately, she attributes the decrease in customers mainly to the lack of parking downtown.

“I think we’re hurting more just because of our location right now,” she said.

Book Fair may be moving in a few years when the lease at its downtown location runs out. Until then, there are enough people who love the feel of a real book as opposed to an ebook, and enough die-hard comic collectors out there, to keep the store in business.

The store offers options to buy, sell or trade books, which keep book and comic lovers coming back for more, said Weselowski.

“People come in from out of town to shop because they’re saving money on used books.”

Published in Volume 67, Number 4 of The Uniter (September 26, 2012)

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