TEXT OF COMMENTARY
Renita Jablonski: BookExpo America kicks off today in Los Angeles. It’s the largest book trade show in the nation. Book retailers have seen better days — particularly independent stores. But a few have bucked the trend. Commentator and independent bookseller Kerry Slattery tells us her story from the office loft above her store.
Kerry Slattery: Our little urban neighborhood in Los Angeles is abuzz these days. Passersby are actively curious about the renovation going on at the small storefront next to my bookstore.
When I put up a little sign saying it’s going to be an expansion, they are incredulous and thrilled. Not another restaurant, not a big chain ice cream parlor, but our very own neighborhood bookshop is doing well enough to grow, even while many independent stores are struggling as consumers flee to big box stores and Amazon.
I keep thinking that our situation is unique, that the reason we are surviving after 11.5 years as an independent bookstore must be due to our offbeat neighborhood. Or that we have a sympathetic landlord. Or that I’ve just been particularly conservative with how we’ve handled our expenses.
Maybe it’s that we’re responsive to our neighborhood’s needs. After all, we host readings by the local Middle School Writers Club every year, and draw top literary names. Our store cat, Lucy, who passed away recently, had a cult following. Customers even donated funds for her vet bills. But independent stores have always done these little things.
What’s happening now is this: More than any other time in recent years, there is a growing national consumer awareness that big may not be better — both in small towns as well as large cities. I’m seeing customers consider the environmental, personal and community impact of buying from locally-owned neighborhood businesses. They’re realizing there’s value in keeping their money — as well as taxes that support services — in their own community. People are starting to look around their neighborhoods a little more, and we want to be there for them when they do.
Sure, with this expansion comes new risk. But that’s the beauty of writing your own story.
Jablonski: Kerry Slattery is co-owner of Skylight Books in Los Angeles.
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