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The last chapter in the story of the American bookstore is far from being written and might include a surprising twist if independent retailers have their way.
Although Borders Group Inc. folded last year and bookstores have struggled to survive the recession and the rise of electronic books, independent retailers are experiencing a surge in their customer base. Consumers interested in shopping local or perusing specialty books have turned to small bookstores to fulfill their needs.
"The trend in the last few years for independents is an interesting one -- it's an upward one," said Meg Smith, membership and marketing officer for the American Booksellers Association, which represents almost 2,000 independent bookstores.
"We have new stores opening up and people who are interested in the business. We have members telling us anecdotally that business during the holiday season has been better than the past few years."
The American Booksellers Association reported that 15.5 percent more people shopped at independent, brick-and-mortar bookstores for the 2011 holiday season than in 2010.
Almost 60 percent more shoppers also used Web sites to buy from them. It also reports that 41 independently owned stores were opened last year.
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Toledo is seeing similar growth in 2012.
Ukazoo Books, 830 N. Westwood Rd., opened its doors two weeks ago and had a following on Facebook before that.
A new Barnes & Noble also is slated to go into a commercial complex at Dorr Street and Secor Road later this year.
While the Internet has played a role in putting some bookstores out of business, Ukazoo is reversing that trend. The company got its start in 2002 selling used books online and is now opening brick-and-mortar stores.
"Just like any other business, we're always looking to grow the business," said Jack Revelle, president and chief executive officer of Ukazoo Books. "When we went and looked when we opened the store we saw that there was a need in the community for a bookstore that had books that are of a little bit lower price level."
Mr. Revelle owns three other Ukazoo stores in Michigan, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. The store's hook is that almost all of its books are less than $6. It primarily sells used books.
The first Ukazoo Books was opened in Towson, Md., in July, 2007, and didn't become profitable until Mr. Revelle developed a software program that tracks what books are being sold.
Scanning books into the system allows employees to catalog what's hot and create a customized inventory. That model allows a store to be profitable no matter what location it moves into, Mr. Revelle said.
As a result of the software, the other three Ukazoo stores were opened within the past year.
"The software will track all of that and adjust the specific authors and different characteristics of the books," Mr. Revelle said. "It will build a best-case inventory for that store. Over time, it builds the inventory that the people coming into the stores are going to want."
Ukazoo is attempting to capitalize on what has made other independent bookstores successful -- finding out what a community wants and delivering on that, Ms. Smith said.
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Barnes and Noble managed to survive and thrive while other bookstores closed by investing in electronic books and moving into competitive locations, company spokesman Amy Cianfrone wrote in an e-mail. "We've found customers and publishers alike value our shelf space, so we don't anticipate the need for bookstores diminishing anytime soon. Therefore, we'll continue to invest in our stores which offer services other retailers don't."
Caitlin McCallum, a 24-year-old Toledo resident, was at Ukazoo on Thursday and said shopping for books online just doesn't cut it. Walking through a bookstore is a "better book experience," she said.
"I like the feel, I can browse, see the book, flip through the book," Ms. McCallum said.
The Toledo area has plenty of places where customers can do that, including Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and some smaller stores, but other well-known establishments didn't survive the industry shakeup.
Thackeray's Books closed in 2005 after 22 years of business in the Westgate area. The Toledo staple was supplied by Borders and couldn't compete with a new store the company was opening a few miles away at Westfield Franklin Park mall, said Clyde Dilley, who was one of Thackeray's owners.
Luckily, Mr. Dilley said, Borders hired the store's employees and bought its merchandise.
"We made arrangements that we would close a couple days before they were going to open," Mr. Dilley said. "As it turned out, it was wonderful timing and a great decision. We didn't get so much money, but we didn't lose so much. We came out of it all right."
Cheryl Baughman, one of the owners of Frogtown Books, closed her brick-and-mortar shop on North Reynolds Road in 2010. It had been open for 18 years. Ms. Baughman operates her store online and specializes in dealing rare, high-end books and historical items.
"We were open when the Internet really stared going. We thought the Internet would be a great advent but then it sort of morphed into something different," Ms. Baughman said. "Everyone kept undercutting each other so the prices went way down."
Although stories like that are common, Ms. Smith hopes independent stores that offer specialized merchandise and electronic books will continue to do well. The American Booksellers Association has partnered with Google to offer electronic books to its members -- it's one strategy to stay ahead of the curve, Ms. Smith added.
"What the bookstore of 2015 and 2020 looks like, I don't know," she said.
Contact Kris Turner at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6103.