With the fate of Polare still uncertain, we started to wonder about what makes a good bookstore. Many reasons for the current downfall of the famous bookstore chain have been pointed out, but it often goes unmentioned what a bookstore does right. Just take a look at the Facebook page Donner moet blijven. It’s filled with nostalgia, not just for the bookstore we all used to know and love, but also for reading and books in general. People love bookstores, but then why is it so hard for them to keep existing? Is it necessary for a bookstore to be more than just a store and if so, which have what it takes? Let’s examine our wishes for bookstores and some bookstores that seem to have it going on.
A great selection, helpful staff and recommendations
What most of us love about bookstores is the browsing. Bookstores have this calmness that allows you to walk amongst rows and rows of books for hours without feeling guilty for wasting your time. The staff is stocking books and alphabetizing shelves. They smile knowingly at you when you walk by with a stack of books in your hands, too heavy to carry. They’ve done it themselves many times. If you have any questions or you’re looking for a new book, they’ll always be able to give you something you didn’t even know you liked. The bookstore is filled with books you want to read, books that you are drawn to immediately and you are unable to leave the store without at least one new paperback in your bag. If the bookstore is not like this at its core, I’m not sure it even is a bookstore.
With attitude i’m not talking about a sassy bookstore that will tell you what’s on her mind no matter who she hurts. It means that the bookstore needs to have a character, a brand of some kind. A bookstore needs to give you this feeling of being welcome and accepted. It needs to be a place that you can go to and relax. You can just take a book off the shelves, sit down and feel right at home. This doesn’t mean that we’re just looking for homey bookstores with comfy sofa’s and smooth jazz, although that does sound pretty awesome. The bookstore can be colorful and vibrant, or calm and quiet. It can be aimed at a specific genre or a general selection, but the store needs to have its own personality. A bookstore is almost like a person and this person should be everyone’s best inanimate friend.
Second hand books / low prices
No matter how much we love a bookstore and how awesome a place it may be, not all of us have enough expendable income to spend it on books that are 20 euros apiece. This is one of the foremost reasons we read in English. High prices, especially on Dutch books under the fixed book price, hurt bookstores. We all know that we buy much more online than we buy in actual stores, just because it is cheaper. Selling second hand books already helps with this problem, as these books are often much cheaper and, if in good condition, totally worth it. But second hand books are not always what we’re looking for and nothing beats the feel of a new, pristine book in your hands. Sometimes you just need a new book! Bookstores often can’t help the high prices, so don’t take it out on them, but maybe publishers should look into the idea of Mark Laframboise who thinks bookstores should get a discount for showcasing books to readers. Sound good to me!
So now that we have covered the basics, let’s move on to some additional things that seem to keep bookstores afloat.
Booze and coffee
We all love to drink coffee or tea while being surrounded by books. I have no idea how this works, but the combination of hot beverages and books is a soothing one. However, another side of the bookstore is starting to show itself. Drinking coffee while reading is very French new wave, but alcohol and reading is much more awesome. Examples of this are Books & Bubbles in Amsterdam where champagne reigns, but also the Denver BookBar: a wine lovers literary dream. Too bad there isn’t a beer & books shop yet, but that might just be where we step in.
Literary events sometimes feel like the lifeline of bookstores. It’s a great way of getting people into your store, drawing them in with big names, the promise of an autograph and meeting the literary elite. Hosting events like readings, book clubs (our favourite!) and writing groups can do wonders for any bookshop and can be a great incentive to get new people over your threshold and their cash into your register.
Rare books, signed books, special editions
This is a personal favorite, but while visiting Powell’s in Portland they had this amazing hall filled with second hand books. An entire wall filled with really old special editions and special first edition signed copies of new books. It was a blissful afternoon when I spent several hours browsing the shelves. Adding this to your bookstore is something that might not keep you afloat, but it definitely gives you an edge, something special for serious book lovers who want more than just a cheap version of a great book. It’s for those people who have their walls lined with books instead of wallpaper, who’s favorite celebrities are authors and who dream of owning one of those stores someday in the future.
It can be easy to judge bookstores on their merit, but we should not forget how important we as the customer are in ensuring the existence of our beloved shops. There are a myriad of campaigns to keep bookstores from extinction, but the best thing you can do is visit the store, buy a book sometimes and promote it among your friends, loved ones and anyone you might not super care about. Anyone will do! Because keep in mind that with every book you buy online, one bookstore kitten is killed and only you are to blame for that.