Sunday, January 19, 2014

Save the Shop Around The Corner



Do you remember the 1998 film You've Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan? Not only did this film focus on the rising popularity of email, inspired by that classic phrase from AOL, but it focused on the demise of a small family-owned bookstore.


Meg Ryan owned the store, inherited from her mother. And Tom Hanks owned the big chain bookstore coming to town that would prompt the closing of her sentimental home for many, many years. A not-so far-fetched tale for our time, the film is actually a remake from a 1940s hit starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan. It also resulted in a 1949 film musical, starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson, called In The Good Old Summertime and served as the inspiration for the 1963 (revived 1993) Broadway Musical She Loves Me.

Spoiler Alert ...  At the conclusion The Shop Around The Corner closes.

Well, Royal Oak has its own Shop Around The Corner. A bookstore in fact. But instead of its status as small family owned shop, it is a chain store location ... the last remaining brick-and-mortar chain bookstore in the USA. Its name is known: Barnes & Noble.

Our city government will tell us that our local Barnes & Noble's time is up. In fact, at the December 17, 2013  Royal Oak City Commission Meeting, City Manager Don Johnson and Director of Planning Tim Thwing both stated that it was very clear downtown Royal Oak's Barnes and Nobles days were numbered. City Commissioner Mike Fournier added that the closing was inevitable. 

Who among us has a crystal ball to predict the demise of a business established in 1886? Who among us truly wants to condemn to death the last remaining large-scale bookstore in America? And do we want the foothold of Royal Oak's retail business -- the only chain store in our community -- to disappear in a cloud of smoke?  What happens to the families who shop there and then dine out downtown? What happens to the additional business our community receives from consumers who travel to Royal Oak for the purposes of shopping in an actual book STORE? If they buy on-line, they aren't eating out downtown after they wrap up their holiday shopping.  

Yesterday, I went to Barnes & Noble. I'm a bit of a Meg Ryan since when it comes to Barnes & Noble, I tend to wax a bit sentimental. But since it's a large chain store, I guess I'm a blend with the Tom Hanks character. See, I go to B & N often. I go alone and spend hours there checking out the latest releases and reading. I meet friends for coffee or lunch. And, I take my kids there. We read ... we browse books ... we buy books. My kids' love of reading is a direct result of having a "local bookstore." My 14 year old son discovered Dan Brown's Lost Symbol -- a book he can't put down -- browsing shelves. (A teenager wanting to read is a beautiful thing!)  On a rainy day if I ask my kids where they want to go, nine out of ten times they want to go to B & N. So, when I was there yesterday, I looked around. Imagine finding that I wasn't alone. In fact, the store was packed and there was a line 10 deep at the register. All these people in line buying books.

But still we are told ... Bookstores are a thing of the past.

I wonder ... are bookstores truly on the way out or are we forcing them out? I enjoy shopping on-line as much as the next person. But I shudder to think of on-line shopping as my only option. I like to touch a book ... to pick it up and look at it before buying it. And if what "they" say is true, might it be possible that we are condemning Barnes & Noble, and other retail locations like it, because of projections and heresy? 

Do you find yourself avoiding places said to be "things of the past" or "operating on borrowed time" or "closing stores regularly?" Does your trust waver when you hear "abysmal holiday sales" or "declining profits" when checking on-line articles? 

Well, I've browsed those articles and discovered the title doesn't tell the whole story ... the facts are slightly less succinct.

Instead of listening to the rumors, I did some homework. I read the reports published after Barnes & Noble announced its year end numbers. In all actuality, according to a January 9 article published by Reuters.com, excluding devices and accessories in its Nook business, B & N's comparable-store sales declined only .2% in the nine weeks that ended December 28. This indicates Barnes & Noble Inc's mainstay retail business showed signs of stabilizing during the holiday period, renewing the belief on Wall Street that the bookseller's stores remain a viable business. In fact, shares rose 7.7% in late trading after the January 9 year-end report was published. Source: NY Times January 9, 2014.

But still we are told ... Bookstores are a thing of the past. 

Barnes & Nobles 673 brick-and-mortar stores experienced a decrease in sales, yes. However, that decrease was only 6.6% compared with the same period in the previous year. This still creates sales of $1.1 billion that makes the CEO Michael Huseby "very happy" with the company's performance in retail bookstores. 

See, publishers depend on Barnes & Noble for display space which results in casual browsing and the potential for planned and spontaneous purchases. Yes, Barnes & Noble DID close some stores. They may close more, according to their own statement. HOWEVER, the key reason the media and on-line reports reflect B & N as "struggling" have truly nothing to do with books ... and everything to do with e-readers, e-books and tablets. In 2013, B & N spent less time on its electronic division. This reflects a trend, noted in Reuters.com, that "the rate of growth of e-books has shown signs of abating after years of torrid growth." While this eases the pressure on book store chains like B & N, it affects year-end sales as the e-book and e-reader business are so heavily focused upon. 

Yet, between January and October, sales of hardcover adult books in the United States rose 7.6%, while e-book sales grew only 2.2% over that period. Source: Associate of American Publishers. Perhaps, as Janney Capital Markets analyst David Strassser wrote recently, "digital book sales are plateauing." And that is a positive for the brick and mortar establishments like Barnes & Noble, on 500 S. Main Street in Royal Oak. In a year without releases of popular new series like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games ... or Fifty Shade of Grey which took the market by storm, book sales can slow down. But, that doesn't indicate they are "on the way out."

Still we are told ... Bookstores are a thing of the past.

Okay, the fact is that revenue for Nook business, including e-readers and tablets as well as digital books fell. That can be attributed to the reality that Barnes & Noble did not release a new tablet for the 2013 holiday season, as it did in years past. Instead, it sold books. Something it continues to do extremely well. And though it is sad to think that electronic devices are necessary to keep bookstores relevant, it is a fact that Barnes & Nobles is analyzing and addressing under its new management. 

HOWEVER, the retail stores did extremely well with only minute decrease in actual book sales, stated John Tinker, analyst with the Maxim Group. His words: "It confirms there is still a very strong retail business."

As for me and my kids, we like books. We buy books. We shop for books. I have a Nook too and I buy e-books as well. But we like having a local bookstore.  From the lines and number of people at Barnes & Noble these days, it's pretty fair to say a lot of other people like books and bookstores too.

Abraham Lincoln stated: "My best friend is one who will give me a book I have not read." I have to agree. So let's Save the Shop Around The Corner and make sure there is a brick and mortar store where that book can be found...                                    
                                                                                                                                            -- Jenni