BY JESSE LOUDENBARGER
National chains and online booksellers are often deemed responsible for driving independent bookshops out of business, but this hasn’t been the case in Bloomington. Not even the recession has caused local bookstores to close.
“To put it concisely, we’re surviving,” says Janis Starcs, co-owner of Caveat Emptor, the shop on the east side of the downtown Square that has specialized in used books since 1971. Starcs also believes bookstores are recession-proof. In fact, national trends show a surprising rise in the number of independent bookshops and an increase in their reported revenues, according to a March report in The Christian Science Monitor.
Margaret Taylor, owner of The Book Corner at Walnut and Kirkwood, says that even the advent of e-books hasn’t caused her to lose business. “People want the smell, the touch, the texture of a real book,” she says.
Boxcar Books and Community Center, in its 11th year of operation, is a nonprofit, volunteer-run business on East 6th Street. Its focus on activism has allowed it to cater to a specific niche of the book-buying clientele in Bloomington. “We rely on folks in town to take care of Boxcar, and so far that’s happened,” says Taylor Dean, Boxcar Books’ general coordinator.
Starcs believes the success of Caveat Emptor is that the store does one thing well—specializing in used books. “That means staying true to our core,” he says, “and not going after the seduction of audiovisual materials, as did Borders.”
With Borders closing its hundreds of megastores, including Bloomington’s in 2011, the age of the large brick-and-mortar bookstore appears to be nearly over. Reuters reports that Barnes and Noble’s revenues are falling, due in part to competition from e-book marketplaces integrating into consumers’ phones, tablets, and e-readers.
Bloomington’s local shops haven’t felt much impact from these trends. “We’re not competing with the big chains or e-book sellers,” says Taylor, whose shop has been open at its current location since 1964. “We just continue to satisfy our customers, and that’s enough for me.”
Until earlier this year, Bloomington had four downtown bookstores, but Joie Canada, owner of Howard’s Bookstore, recently decided to retire and close her shop. But Howard’s wasn’t struggling, Canada says. “I didn’t want to work that hard anymore. I’m tired.” She never considered selling, she adds, because she didn’t want to see her family business, which opened in 1970, in someone else’s hands.