The bookstore business is volatile these days, and while independent bookstores are fighting off online competition better than record stores did, there are still causalities. And it’s not just the owners and employees that suffer when an indie bookstore shuts down. The cities and towns they serve suffer too.
Books N’ More in Wilmington, Ohio, is closing. In fact, by the time you read this, they’ll be gone.
In the age of online shopping and e-books, it’s not strange to hear about an independent bookstore closing. But Books N’ More isn’t just a bookstore. With a 2,000 square foot storefront perfectly situated on Main Street, it’s the center of Wilmington for many residents, and it has hosted many of Wilmington’s largest events.
It’s also a true mom and pop shop. I asked the owners, Dan and Marla Stewart, about their favorite moments from 18 years serving Main Street:
"Probably our largest—well, I know that our largest book signing was when Glenn Beck was here. We have a very large space here but there was not room in the store, and so there were people that had to stand out in the light snowstorm to wait till someone came out. And during that hour and a half he was here, he signed a little over a thousand books," said Dan.
Marla Stewart says her favorites were, "The Harry Potter events that we did, especially the one in 2007. We probably had about 10,000 people. We had a couple streets blocked off. A lot of the downtown businesses participated, and it was just a very neat experience."
But there won’t be events like those in this space anytime soon, and Wilmington Mayor Randy Riley is quick to note what the loss of Books N’ More means to the community.
"Oh, it’s horrible to lose Books N’ More," says Riley. "They’ve been like an anchor in the downtown. If you go to a shopping mall, a strip mall, there’s always an anchor store. Well, Books N’ More has been the anchor of the downtown area. They’ve been it for so long. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve blocked Main Street down because Books N’ More was having a celebration. And there would be literally thousands of people… Books N’ More has been the heartbeat of downtown at times. We’re going to miss them, miss them something terribly."
Books N’ More was more than just big events. They threw “American Girl” parties for almost 18 years. They hosted grade schoolers for their field days, and they stayed open until midnight on Fridays, giving Wilmington teens a safe place to hangout.
Technically speaking, the Stewarts aren’t going out of business. They’ll still distribute books to schools. They’ll still work with local authors and sell books at readings and special events throughout the region. But the storefront, the epicenter of Wilmington, will be no longer.
In the 21st century, most independent bookstores have to change to survive, which maybe most notable in Yellow Springs, where two bookstores have changed locations in the last five years. Both moving from street front to off-street locations.
Gail Lichtenfels, owner of Epic Books, sold new books until 2009, when Epic went out of business, and she just reopened last December—in a new location.
"When I started out in the new book business, there was no internet," she said. "There was no Barnes and Noble in Beavercreek. Things changed so much in the book world, that my business was no longer viable, and it took me a little too long to figure that out. And I’m still discovering how it’s going to work. The whole used book business is a little new to me. It’s not my expertise, so I’m really learning, learning, learning. And things will probably change here. I don’t know. I’m doing events with local authors, and I have a couple writing workshops going on in here, and an astrology class. And I think that is a big part of it: to make a community kind of place for classes and a comfort zone for people to come and hangout, and you can’t do that online."
Back in Wilmington, Marla Stewart of Books N’ More notes the irony of Amazon’s latest venture, a physical bookstore
"I think it’s rather peculiar that at this time Amazon is opening a bricks and mortar store, which is just odd. They’ve run a lot of people out of business, and now they’re opening a brick and mortar store. It’s crazy."
It is a little crazy. Stewart’s right about that, and Mayor Riley is correct about the loss of a bookstore being sad. A few weeks ago, Marketplace noted that small businesses don’t actually fuel the economy. And while that’s true, small businesses don’t fuel the economy, they do fuel community.