“Sink or swim” is a phrase that has become all too common in the minds of small business owners in the last three years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Independent bookstores are only one of the many victims of the struggling economy, and with tech giant Amazon reigning supreme over its empire — built on the demand for e-commerce that has only skyrocketed since the company’s founding — many wonder whether in-person bookstores can match the charm and efficiency of online shopping.
The book industry has had its fair share of difficulties, there’s no denying it. We all remember when thousands of stores closed due to state mandates back in 2020. Many shops closed their doors permanently due to the crisis, filing for bankruptcy or collapsing altogether under the strain of stalled business. Those who didn’t, however, had learned new methods of survival. Businesses across the country began introducing carry-out services that emphasized low-contact service as well as increased online presence through their websites and social media. Maybe the lesson business owners can learn from these events is one simple truth: Adapt and survive or preserve and disappear.
Bookstores, like all businesses, must grow to meet the needs of their customers. As I’ve said, they must increase their online presence and reach the online market. Zubal Books is a Cleveland bookseller that operates largely through shipping books straight to your door. You can find Appletree Books in Cleveland Heights — a store that offers in-store pickup or curbside as well as deliveries.
Plenty of bookstores has also embraced community events to attract clientele. Loganberry Books is one such store, offering monthly book readings by visiting authors and open mic nights. Others have modified their spaces to accommodate cafés and bars. Not far from Cleveland State is Visible Voice Books, a store that boasts warm mugs of coffee and tea to sip while perusing the shelves. Barnes and Noble also became incredibly successful in recent years after their partnership with Starbucks cafés. Coffee and books go great together.
While these attempts to evolve are important, the responsibility does not only rest with booksellers. It’s up to us to visit these stores in person, attend their events, and voice our support. Independent bookstores can continue to survive — and thrive — if given half the chance.
Bookstores in cities like Cleveland are bountiful and diverse. In-person bookstores are not quite dead and gone, and it is our duty to try and preserve them. They’re a way of building a culture and connecting with others who love to read just as much as you do. They’re good for new and self-published authors who couldn’t sell anywhere else. Heck, they’re a way of helping the economy. The more community-based small businesses we’ve got, the better.