A bright chapter for bookstores | Kitsap Week

Kitsap’s independent shops find ways to remain competitive in the modern literary economy.

By Seraine page

There’s something cozy about bookstores. The way they smell. How one can transport a reader into another place and time. How peace and quiet can always be found in a nook or cranny.

It’s where information abounds, and there’s no limit to how many questions one can seek answers to.

In recent years, technology has taken over the book realm with the introduction of tablets, eReaders and more. While technology has damaged book sales at some locally-owned independent stores, owners refuse to back down and say that print is dead.

“A lot of [bookstores] have closed, unfortunately, because of eBooks,” said Geri Schempp, co-owner of Port Orchard’s Book ’Em. “I think there will always be bookstores because people want the experience of holding a book.”

Schempp said eReaders in particular have “significantly” hurt Book ’Em. But she knows that some of her customers love their paperback books as much as they love electronic books.

It was about three years ago when the business saw a decline in customers.

In an age of evolving media, some independent bookstore owners see this as a time to develop a stronger entrepreneurial sense.

In fact, some are getting more creative with how they go about their business, said Oren Teicher, CEO of American Booksellers Association, a non-profit organization that protects and promotes the interests of independent retail book businesses, and advocates for the First Amendment.

“Over the last two years, there have been lots and lots of successful stores with new owners,” Teicher said. “The stores succeed when they engage in their community. It is that engagement in the community that often sets those businesses apart.”

Pages Books in Silverdale is one such store, nestled so comfortably in the community that it’s easy to miss. However, owner David Hunt, works hard to make sure he takes care of customers and encourages repeat visits. For him, summer is the best time to sell books. It’s when people are taking off to the beaches or heading off to a secluded cabin on a lake. Books just fit into those settings, he said.

To make the bookstore experience even more unique and enjoyable, Hunt has an unofficial store mascot named Ender, a white cat with splashes of gray on his coat. Ender spends most of his days sleeping, his head on his book choice of the day. Several customers have fallen in love with Ender and the space behind the register is filling with toys and treats. One periodically brings Ender fresh catnip.

“They don’t come to see me. They don’t come to see the books. They come to see Ender,” Hunt said of the store’s cat.

Although Hunt isn’t a fan of how electronic readers have impacted bookstores, he understands how someone going on an extended vacation might want to store hundreds of books they might not otherwise be able to carry in a suitcase. He still prefers books with real pages.

“The eReaders and the tablets have their use,” Hunt admitted. “(But) each book has its own texture and smell … I think for the rest of my lifetime, books will still be around.”

While some bookstores have long fought hard against eBooks, others are embracing the change in technology as an opportunity to do something different to maintain sales. Eagle Harbor Book Co., a Bainbridge Island-based bookstore that’s been in business for more than 40 years, began embracing new technology within the last few years.

The island merchant now offers customers the option to purchase electronic books to be read on a variety of readers. The books can be purchased online through Kobo, a digital book provider. The island store gets credit for the sale. It’s a way for customers to shop electronically, and still locally.

The store also sells various models of Kobo eReaders.

“Our customers have shown great enthusiasm for having an eReader option that allows them to support their local bookstore,” Eagle Harbor Book Co. co-owner Tim Hunter said.

“The combination of flexibility, openness and local support has allowed electronic books to supplement traditional books in the small-town community.”

Hunter notes that eBooks are an option, but they won’t become the only option.

“Electronic books seem unlikely to supplant paper books, but the ability to offer electronic versions of titles is something both Eagle Harbor Books, and its customers, take quite seriously,” he said.

Adding items like eReaders to their shelves is one way that bookstores remain relevant in an ever-changing world, Teicher said.

“eBooks are absolutely impacting the way consumers are reading. (But) the massive growth in digital reading has leveled off,” he said. “We’re mindful that some of our members and customers absolutely read digitally. We live in a hybrid world where people do both.”

Bruce Strosnider is one of those people who uses both. As a customer of Book ’Em for more than 15 years, Strosnider also loves his print books.

“I would do anything to see that he stayed in business,” Strosnider said of Jim Bryan’s Book ’Em shop. “But he’s doing fine.”

The Port Orchard resident enjoys literary criticism pieces along with poetry, but has read everything in-between as well. With bookstore trips ranging from one to three times a month, it’s easy to wander into other genre sections, especially when there’s everything from chick lit to cookbooks.

“It’s a good place to go because it’s very personal,” he said. “I appreciate all the bookstores.”

Strosnider said he continues to go back “mainly (because) their great personalities” and because it is close to home. Despite the fact that he has an eReader, he can’t recall the last time he stepped into a chain bookstore like Barnes & Noble, which often gives out free eBooks for customers. The avid reader estimates he has 500 books on his electronic reader, mainly due to the quick nature of a download.

“It’s a really cool thing,” he said. “You can get a book in one minute.”

It’s the unique books that Strosnider believes brings customers back to used book stores. A coffee table art book can’t be appreciated nearly as much on an eReaders as it can in person.

Collections are another reason that brings customers back to used-book stores. Sometimes there’s a need to complete a collection, and often customers want that out-of-print book, Hunt said.

He will search for weeks to find a customer a book. A big-chain store can easily pick up a phone or do an engine search; Hunt makes it personal.

That’s one reason Schempp believes that used-book stores are such gems.

“We’ve got a lot of out-of-print books that big bookstores don’t have,”she said. “For some people, it’s like a treasure hunt.”