It's not easy being a book store in the year 2012.
This morning I've read two separate online reviews of our store (probably written by the same person) that scolded us because we "don't know what they want to be." The reviewer said, "They don't know whether they want to be a new book store, a used book store or a yarn store." So in case any of you are thinking the same thing, let me address that issue. The fact is, we know exactly what we want to be. We want to be in business.
When my husband and I bought Black Bear Books in November of 2009, the former owner told us, "You're going to have to be a book store and something else. Book stores are not making it." We took his advice. We tried several "something else's" but couldn't find anything that worked. We were a book store and a coffee shop, but we were going under with that combo, no matter how much everyone loved it. We ended up with yarn because we had rented a corner of our store to a local yarn shop, and when the owner decided to retire, we bought her out. Between the books, the coffee and the yarn, we were able to survive.
I must say, we have never suffered from a lack of love. Everyone loves our book store. (Well, except for the guy who wrote the review(s). People love to browse in book stores. I think it's one of the great pleasures of life. But if you want to continue to have that pleasure, you can't just love to browse. You have to occasionally buy some books.
I don't say this because I want to add a room to my house. (Owning a book store is a good way to go broke, but not a good way to get rich.) I say it because I don't want to live in a town without a book store. I have some experience at this, since I live in Los Angeles part of the year. With the exception of a few scattered Barnes & Nobles (and a couple of great indies, long may they live!) Los Angeles is now a city without book stores. It used to have the greatest book stores in the world, like Dutton's, and the malls always had at least one really nice book store. Now the malls have really pretty empty stores where the book stores used to be. And that's what we at Black Bear do NOT want to be.
We have a yarn corner because people are knitting these days, it seems, more than they're reading. And knitting can't be downloaded into an e-book. (My manager tells me that we have lost at least 20% of our business since e-books became popular.) We sell used books because people like them and buy them. Our store is what it is today because it was the only way we could survive. (You'll note that we are the last book store standing, so apparently we were right.)
Don't get me wrong. What I want the store to be is the world's greatest book store, like the one in You've Got Mail. (You know, the one that went out of business.) I'd love to have three copies of any book you could ask for. I'd like the used books to be in an annex two stores down, right next to the yarn shop. I'd like to have every top author come to sign at our store. (But try to get that when you're two hours away from an airport!) I'd like to still have a coffee shop. (Long story, we'll talk.) The list of what I'd like us to have would wrap around the mall. However, it's 2012 and people don't buy books like they used to. It's 2012 and there was no winter, which was devastating to all the local businesses and all the people in town who depend on skiers to get through the winter. It's 2012 and though the economy is improving, we haven't seen much of that around here. I can't fault my customers for not buying as many books as they used to, but I have to deal with the reality of where that leaves us.
We are so grateful to our loyal customers. We simply would not be here any more without you. And we are going to do our best to be the best book store we can be. But we also have to do whatever it takes to stay open, so you won't have to walk through the mall and look at the empty store where we used to be.