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Published: Monday, 11/11/2002

Thackeray's does it by the book

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Magda Kamburowski of Toledo browses the latest titles at Thackeray's Books, which has tripled in size to 13,000 square feet since opening in 1983. Magda Kamburowski of Toledo browses the latest titles at Thackeray's Books, which has tripled in size to 13,000 square feet since opening in 1983.
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After nearly 20 years in business, the owners of Thackeray's Books in Toledo's Westgate Village Shopping Center likely have enough business acumen to successfully implement the latest bookstore trends: coffee bar, bistro, music, and videos.

But while such fads might lure new shoppers, the owners are savvy enough to know it also could drive away Thackeray's longtime customer base.

Thackeray's, one might say, does things by the book and always will.

``When we opened, we wanted to provide a bookstore for the community. If we made money, that was okay,'' said executive vice president and general manager Diane Routson, the only one of Thackeray's five co-owners who works at the store.

``That hasn't changed at all. To that end, we have become even more involved in the community.''

But the business has changed. While the location is the same, the site expanded twice, tripling in size to 13,000 square feet since opening in 1983. It has gone from 15 employees total to 18 full-time and seven part-time workers.

Sales will reach $4 million this year, double what they were a decade ago.

On a competitive front, Thackeray's uses the Internet to quickly research book titles, offers discounts comparable to Web sites like Amazon.com, sells books through its own Web site, and encourages its employee to study competitors regularly to keep abreast of sales trends.

``In some ways, it's important to do what those other stores do because they have the money to do market research,'' Ms. Routson said. But changes seldom go beyond books and book marketing, she added.

Thackeray's has the same number of books as a superstore with 25,000 square feet, she explained, because it doesn't offer the videos and music that some competitors do.

Another point of pride for Thackeray's: its staff is a voracious bunch of readers who usually read what the store sells.

Dennis Fennell, owner of the Little Professor Book Center in Springfield Township, called Thackeray's a ``true independent bookstore.''

``We're friendly competitors, each with our own niche,'' he said.

``They're strong in the arts, theater, and we'll certainly recommend them to a customer before we'll recommend Barnes and Noble because their people know the books they sell.''

Ms. Routson's retail career might never have begun had she not lost her teaching job at the University of Toledo. The uncertainty of an academic career - always hoping there will be enough grant money available -pushed her into leaving to start the bookstore.

She got four other investors with university ties to join her, and Thackeray's was born. True to its mission of being a community bookstore, it has a strong reputation for promoting regional authors and holding special book-related events with local schools and organizations.

Over the years, ties to the university and community have increased, and the company has rejected opportunities to relocate to Monroe Street or to expand to downtown Toledo and Perrysburg.

“This is where Toledo knows us,” she explained. “We keep it fresh, we keep it current, and we plan to keep it here.''

Speculation that more book superstores might be headed to Toledo has forced the owners to consider how it would respond, and Internet sales have hurt both Thackeray's and its rivals. Also, younger shoppers have come to expect bookstores to offer books, music, movies, and snacks, so Thackeray's must finds ways to attract new shoppers without alienating the current ones, Ms. Routson said.

``We don't want the younger generation to perceive this as too stuffy or like a library,'' Ms. Routson said. ``So we hire a lot of college students and I think that helps. They come up with great, fresh ideas and I think we have a laid-back management style that let's us stay current.”

Small Business Profile is a weekly feature on local companies. To be considered, send information about your company to Small Business Profiles, Business News, The Blade, P.O. Box 921, Toledo, Ohio 43697-0921.



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