Independent bookstores in Glenwood Springs covered during recession
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Despite the recent closing of one of the Roaring Fork Valley’s independent bookstores, due in part to the economic downturn, two established downtown Glenwood bookstores say they’re in it for the long haul.
“When you’ve been in business for so long, you learn that you just have to keep going around these curves,” said Sharon Graves, who along with her husband, John, has owned Through the Looking Glass on Grand Avenue for 31 years.
It’s not the first recession she’s experienced. But a combination of the current economy and changes in the way consumers tend to buy books these days have made this one a little more challenging, she said.
“It was a real shock,” Graves said of the decision by the owners of Town Center Booksellers in Basalt to close down. “It’s going to leave a hole in that community.”
The recession has only added to the problems facing independent bookstores, which have been fighting off challenges from national chains and online buying options for several years.
According to the American Booksellers Association, the number of independent bookstores in the U.S. has fallen from 4,700 in 1993 to 2,500 last year.
“Our margins aren’t that big, and we can’t just discount our prices the way the bigger retailers can,” Graves said.
But she takes solace in her own longevity and knowledge of the book business, along with the loyalty of some of her longtime customers, as the things that will help her business survive.
“People still read in an economic downturn,” Graves said. Maybe even more so, which is why she constantly strives to provide something different.
“I think a lot of people who come in here understand what’s going on with bookstores, even the tourists,” she said. “Do we really want to be so homogenized that there’s no individuality? That’s why the independents are unique.”
It’s something customer Donna Riley appreciates. She stopped in at Through the Looking Glass on Tuesday morning with her toddler, Kenny, for an “impulse buy.”
“Supporting local businesses in general is important, because you’re supporting local people,” she said. “Plus, they have much cooler stuff.”
Across the street and down a block, another independent store that deals in new books, local authors and a wide selection of magazines also has the experience of more than 30 years in business on its side.
“We’re still here, and we don’t plan to go anywhere soon,” said Carole O’Brien, general manager at Book Train for the past five years.
“But it is interesting for bookstores,” she said. “Even before the economy got bad it was a tough business to be in. There’s so much competition, especially as an independent bookstore.”
As with other businesses, the recession has caused Book Train to adapt.
“We haven’t had to let anybody go,” O’Brien said. “But when people have left, we have not hired to replace them unless it was absolutely necessary.”
Employee hours have been trimmed some, and they don’t always try to cover for someone who’s on vacation, she said.
“We looked at cutting store hours, but we decided not to do that,” O’Brien said.
It’s one of those customer service things that sets the independents apart.
“We’re one of the few stores down here that is open on weekends,” she said. “People like that, and we want to be here for that person.
“And, we know our customers by name,” she continued. “We know who they are, and what they want to read. So, we can offer that sort of personal service.”
Book Train also emphasizes a lot of local titles and local authors that can’t be found in the chain stores.
“We’re really just trying to walk that line between having enough staff, and enough inventory, but not too much of either,” she added.
The coming summer tourist season is viewed with anticipation by both O’Brien and Graves, along with the other downtown businesses.
Tourists, especially, are looking to get away from the routine when they visit a place like Glenwood Springs, Graves said.
“In general, we really try to focus on the hidden treasures that you otherwise miss if you’re only concentrating on the big press runs that you see wall-papered across the big book stores,” she said.
Many Glenwood Springs businesses are also hoping the recession could actually benefit the summer tourism season locally.
“The tourist base is so important for us,” O’Brien said. “I think we will see a lot of people who want to get away, but can’t afford that big vacation this year, so they’ll come here.”
A third downtown Glenwood Springs bookstore, Book Grove, located on the corner of Blake Avenue and Eighth Street, specializes in collectibles, out-of-print and used books.
Contact John Stroud: 384-9160
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