'We're not in it for the money'
BROAD BROOK, CONN.
The swan song of the independent bookstore has been sung – and then sung again. In a bookselling climate dominated by the Internet and chain stores, even the most persistent redoubts are reportedly packing up. Certainly the numbers bear this out. Membership in the trade organization for independently owned bookstores has dropped by more than half in the past decade.
Yet new stores continue to open. "We're like Mark Twain" (who lived long after he was mistakenly reported dead), says Oren Teicher of the American Booksellers Association (ABA). "Rumors of our death are premature."
In 2005 the ABA registered 90 new stores. Last year there were 97, spanning the country from tiny, two-store towns to bursting metropolises. It's a recent shift, and one that should be heartening for famished bookworms. But it leaves one wondering, even worrying, about these novice booksellers, so new to a business where 2 percent is often considered a good margin of profit. Are they blinded by their love of books, harboring romantic dreams of earning a living? Is there even room in the cultural landscape for the independent bookstore? Is it worth the risk?
Like others who set up shop in 2006, Christopher Tarr, owner of Broad Brook Books & Stuff, on a bank of the audibly rushing waterway for which this town was named, has faced his share of doubters. "Everybody's first reaction to a bookstore is, 'Why ?' " he says. But the question never gave him much pause.
As for the other questions, the answer to those, it seems, is yes. These new booksellers are romantic (but also pragmatic), they hope to pull in a salary (or at least not lose money), they believe there absolutely is a place in their communities for independent bookstores, and yes, the risk is well worth it.
Mr. Tarr, his narrow store crowded with the unfinished poplar shelves that he assembled himself, embodies many of the attitudes shared by recently minted booksellers, just as his store reflects some of the trends among the newest crop of bookshops.