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TOPICAL OPTICAL

Independent Book Stores are Dead?

You might think so with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all the stiff competition today �
sounds a lot like independent ECP�s Huh?

Fortunately the rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated. In reality more bookstores have opened than closed in the last couple of years in the U.S., They have always been and will always be anchors in many communities.

In fact May 2 was Independent Bookstore Day, celebrating this vital industry. That day on Twitter and Instagram, shoppers showed off their literary hauls so enthusiastically that for a few hours the hashtag #Bookstoreday was trending nationwide, up there with the royal baby, the Kentucky Derby, and an event which shares the event’s community- spirited DNA, Free Comic Book Day.

As reported by The Daily Beast, “To get new customers coming in, spending money, and coming back, independent bookstores have to offer something that their customers can’t find online. That might be an intangible sense of community, or something more concrete, like the special products that the IBD organizers created this year—“physical, real, bona fide book swag,” as Rebecca Fitting of Brooklyn’s Greenlight Bookstore called it. The range of signed books and artwork, available only on this day and only in stores, included a chapbook of new essays by Bad Feminist author Roxane Gay; a limited-edition print by the graphic artist Chris Ware; and a stencil of a Margaret Atwood quote designed to resonate with the bookstore crowd: “A word after a word after a word is power.””

It resonates with me that we have a lot in common with bookstores, more than would be thought. Now that the shock of the big box retailers, the cheesy on-line merchants, and competition from dispensing Doctors has subsided a bit, we are taking a hard look at the traditional ways we view our role as eyeglass vendors. A look on Face Book at trendy optical groups makes one realize there are a lot of really sharp folks out there taking the measure of the big, the faceless, (and sometimes boring) mass merchandisers.

We see great local, independent optical shops that prosper by mining unique niches they have carved for themselves, not just trunk shows but a combination of smart social media savvy, outreach to underserved communities as a social good, building community, by refusing to carry the “me too” products the mall giants push, combining with artists and art groups, supporting vendors who support the local stores, and so on.

“Getting customers to reject the homogeneity of chain stores and the facelessness of Amazon has been essential to the success of unique independent stores. But the stores that profit best from an event like Bookstore Day seem to be those, like McNally Jackson, that have already embraced the new social reality of bookselling. They are the stores that maintain a chatty and approachable social media presence, offer a carefully curated selection of stock, run children’s story time in the mornings and readings and parties in the evenings, and focus on making their stores pleasurable places to visit. They are the stores that are the face of this unexpected retail resurgence.”

“Pleasurable to visit”, ponder that statement for a moment – that is the low bar we must hurdle to begin making ourselves more relevant in this hyper connected age, and it has to be sincere.

“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”
— Desiderius Erasmus, circa 1466

Today he might add, “And glasses to help me read them!”

Jim Magay
jmagay@comcast.net

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