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Climbing out of the Cellar

Independent bookstores are bucking the trend in brick-and-mortar retail stores heading downward. For the last eight or so years, nonchain bookstores have been moving in the opposite direction.

A crowded Book Cellar

The Book Cellar, a new store in downtown Lake Worth, Florida, is evidence of that. The store has been popular since its opening in early October, and just expanded to include a charming café. The café opening was Friday night, and drew a plethora of customers to not only browse among the genres but partake of a cup of coffee, a glass of wine (the beer offerings are about to increase), and nibbles.

Comfortable chairs throughout the store were occupied by patrons absorbed in various titles. The store, which has wood floors, is quaint, the ambience offering a cozy, homey sense.

And that, say book retail experts, is a big reason for the revival of an institution that held sway across America before the advent of Amazon with its digital offerings, and even further back, the proliferation of chain bookstores. Decades ago, independent bookstores thrived.

Ryan Raffaelli

The resurgence is largely due to a focus on creating a feeling of community, according to Ryan Raffaelli, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School. He embarked five years ago on a study of how bookstores managed not just to survive, but thrive, despite the arrival of Amazon and other online book retailers.

An article by Carmen Noble on Harvard Business School’s website says, “Independent booksellers were some of the first to champion the idea of localism; bookstore owners across the nation promoted the idea of consumers supporting their local communities by shopping at neighborhood businesses. Indie bookstores won customers back from Amazon, Borders, and other big players by stressing a strong connection to local community values.”

The stellar Cellar

The Book Cellar

At The Book Cellar, 801 Lake Ave., that community connection is partly manifested by its attention to local authors. Each week, an author does a book signing. Yours truly did one just before Thanksgiving for the novel MURDER IN PALM BEACH: The Homicide That Never Died, and 10 copies have sold since the Oct. 6 opening.

Curation, the Harvard article says, is another important part of the success of independents, which “began to focus on curating inventory that allowed them to provide a more personal and specialized customer experience. Rather than only recommending bestsellers, they developed personal relationships with customers by helping them discover up-and-coming authors and unexpected titles.”

That certainly is true of the Cellar, which has a knowledgeable staff that has selected an eclectic variety of books beyond the usual titles by Patterson, Baldacci, Clancy, et al.

The Book Cellar, Lake Worth, Fla.

Promoting their stores “as intellectual centers for convening customers with likeminded interest” is another element that’s led to independents’ resurgence, the Harvard article says. It lists lectures, game nights, children’s story times, young adult reading groups, and birthday parties in addition to book signings. “In fact,” Raffaelli is quoted as saying, “some bookstores now host over 500 events a year that bring people together.”

That togetherness likely was enhanced by the opening of the Cellar’s café. Stay tuned for events. The store and café now are open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday.

The American Booksellers Association, which promotes independent bookstores, has fostered the revival of these stores through such efforts as helping them and other local businesses develop partnerships. And the ABA has facilitated member bookstores’ sharing of best practices, such as use of social media to promote events.

Harvard’s Rafaelli noted that many traditional brick-and-mortar businesses were attempting to cope with technological change, and concluded: “But this has been an especially fascinating industry to study because indie booksellers provide us with a story of hope.”

As my Western Civilization professor used to say at the end of every class, “Press on.”

#DavidBaldacci #CarmenNoble #TheBookCellar #RyanRaffaelli #HarvardBusinessSchool #LakeWorthFlorida #JamesPatterson #TomClancy #AmericanBooksellersAssociation

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