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The novel resurgence of independent bookstores

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"The localism movement in America has really reached a tipping point," says Mr. Teicher. "It's no longer just a few people out there preaching localism."

In addition, the rise of social media means that bookstores can reach customers without the benefit of giant advertising budgets. And the cost of payroll and inventory systems, which used to be prohibitively expensive for a small store, have come down.

"Technology has really helped level the playing field enormously in how our members can be competitive," says Teicher.

For the most part, gone are the days of the hobbyist who opened an independent bookstore because he or she just loved to read. In fact, Daniel Goldin, owner of the Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, recently refused to pose for a newspaper while reading a book.

"We don't read in the store," says Mr. Goldin, who has, however, been known to open up at 7 a.m. for a regular customer or drive two hours to help out an author at an event.

Today's owners often have researched the business and worked in other stores before they started putting up shelves. Goldin, for example, worked as a buyer for Schwartz Books and bought his storefront location from the former owners when the local chain closed in 2009 after 82 years.

In another encouraging sign, John Mutter, editor in chief of Shelf Awareness, publisher of two industry newsletters, sees more young owners than he did five years ago, when industry events "were a sea of gray hair," he says.

At bookstores nationwide, the community event has replaced the cat as de rigueur. Independents have added cafes and costume plays, and sell everything from locally made cards, T-shirts, and toys to chocolates and calendars.

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