CORRECTION (Published Montclarion 3/7/2014)

In a story about local independent bookstores, it was incorrectly reported that A Great Good Place for Books in Montclair Village sells Kindles. The store sells Kobos.

OAKLAND -- BookStats released a report in 2013 that overall book sales in the United States were up 6.9 percent in 2012 over the previous year, while revenue from e-book sales increased a mighty 45 percent in the same time frame.

"There's been exponential growth in e-books in the past few years," said Tina Jordan, vice president of the Association of American Publishers (AAP), which co-produced the BookStats report with the Book Industry Study Group. That big boom is starting to level out, with a 5 percent growth rate in 2013, according to AAP. At local independent bookstores, it's a mixed bag.

A Great Good Place for Books owner Kathleen Caldwell takes a call from a customer. The Montclair Village bookstore features appearances by prominent
A Great Good Place for Books owner Kathleen Caldwell takes a call from a customer. The Montclair Village bookstore features appearances by prominent authors as well as year-round activities for book lovers and children.

David Hartsough, who owns The Book Tree on LaSalle Avenue in Montclair, said sales at his store reflect BookStats' numbers. In 2013, revenue was significantly higher than the previous year.

"A lot of our customers want to make sure we stay in business," said Hartsough, adding that The Book Tree has been in Montclair for 28 years.

"People thought that when the pharmacy next door closed, we were also going out of business," he said. "Now they know we're here to stay, and that's bringing in customers."

Hartsough said the strength of the independent book retailer is individualized service.

"The customer sees the business owner and knows who they are dealing with," he said. "Customers like that we have an attachment to the community."


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He said that chain stores don't have that kind of personal connection.

"When Borders went out of business, the whole chain shut down; Barnes & Noble just closes stores when they're not making any money," Hartsough said. "Independent retailers are invested in their businesses -- most of us live in the communities we serve."

Hartsough said The Book Tree focuses mainly on collections of fiction, history, biographies and children's books.

Jolene Jacobs, a regular customer at Laurel Book Store on MacArthur Boulevard and a local resident, says she buys books when she has the money. She
Jolene Jacobs, a regular customer at Laurel Book Store on MacArthur Boulevard and a local resident, says she buys books when she has the money. She recently purchased ìHow to Be a Great Loverî and ìThe Vegan Slow Cooker.î

He doesn't sell e-books, but thinks he will incorporate those as the store evolves.

"I just created a website," said Hartsough, who purchased The Book Tree in 2012, after working there for several years.

The store also stocks a lot of books that other stores no longer keep on the shelves.

"We have a more historical view of literature as opposed to just stocking the current stuff," Hartsough said.

"Customers find books here that they can't find elsewhere."

Across the street at A Great Good Place for Books, owner Kathleen Caldwell also reports a spike in book sales.

"It varies month to month, but I'd estimate we've seen a 20 percent growth in sales over the past two years," said Caldwell, who has owned the shop since 2004.

Heather Lake, son Casey, 14, and their dog Willow check out the 20 percent off table in front of The Book Tree in Montclair.
Heather Lake, son Casey, 14, and their dog Willow check out the 20 percent off table in front of The Book Tree in Montclair.

"We also sell through our website, that's our answer to Amazon," Caldwell said. "The big difference between us and Amazon is that we live in the community."

While Caldwell sells Kobos and e-books, she's noticed that some of her customers are starting to shy away from e-trade.

"A lot of people prefer a real book and are only using their Kindles when traveling," she said.

Caldwell keeps things hopping at her shop, with frequent author events and year-round kids' activities, including a summer reading program and scavenger hunts.

"It's very important to have the community involved and for our store to be a community place," said Caldwell, who attended the 2013 American Booksellers Association's annual Winter Institute in Kansas City.

"It was very upbeat," said Caldwell of the three-day educational event.

"People were very excited about what is going on in the industry."

At the end of the day, Caldwell said it's always old-fashioned customer service that keeps the small retailer going.

"Good service and the 'shop local' trend are what helps the independents," said Caldwell, who saw a spike in trade when the local Barnes & Nobles shuttered its doors.

"People want a community bookstore where people care about them ... Borders or Amazon don't say they're sorry when your dog dies."

Not all local bookstores are seeing the industry growth that the BookStats' survey suggests.

Luan Stauss, owner of Laurel Book Store on MacArthur Boulevard, said 2013 was difficult for many customers.

"A lot of my customers have lost their homes or jobs," said Stauss, who sees those losses reflected in her business.

"I've heard from my compatriots in the book business that it's a mixed bag out there."

She hasn't noticed any "bump" in business in the Laurel District that would indicate an uptick in the local economy.

"Some restaurants have gone out of business, and discount supermarkets have changed the demographic of the neighborhood," said Stauss, who opened Laurel Book Store in 2001. "Many people are going elsewhere to shop."

She said the opening of MaxxValue Foods right across the street, where the old Lucky's used to be, probably hurt her business.

"People who have to shop at discount grocery stores probably aren't going to cross the street to buy books," said Stauss.

She strives to be competitive by selling through her website, just as Amazon does.

"However, we don't have the same marketing money that Amazon does," she said.

Laurel Book Store also hosts author appearances and caters to the e-book market.

"It's not a huge part of our business," Stauss said. "We mostly cater to book lovers who love paper and the smell of a book."

She thinks that overall, bookstores are hanging on but not thriving. She says the "shop local" movement has been greatly beneficial to the small retailer.

"People recognize that to keep small businesses, they have to shop locally," Stauss said.

Laurel resident Jolene Jacobs is a regular customer at Laurel Book Store.

"I buy books when I have the money," said Jacobs, who demonstrated her eclectic tastes by purchasing "How to Be a Great Lover" and "The Vegan Slow Cooker."

Kathy Mattingly lives in the Montclair neighborhood and is a frequent customer at A Great Good Place for Books.

"I like to shop here mainly because the employees are helpful, knowledgeable and make thoughtful recommendations," said Mattingly, who can walk to the shop from her house.

"The atmosphere is pleasant, and there are lots of book readings by interesting local authors."

FYI
The Book Tree: 6121 LaSalle Ave., Oakland, 510-339-0513, www.book-tree.com
A Great Good Place for Books: 6120 La Salle Ave., Oakland, 510-339-8210, www.ggpbooks.com
Laurel Book Store: 4100 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, 510-531-2073, www.laurelbookstore.com