Monday, April 2, 2018

The Beauty of Buying Local: How One Indie Bookstore Is Staying Afloat

A Massachusetts bookstore engages its community through more than just filling orders and housing best-sellers.  ♦ 
A two-story antique barn with comfortable indoor and outdoor seating sits at the end of Main Street, almost literally where the sidewalk ends. Hardwood floors and unique accent lighting create a homey feel, most certainly not something that could be recreated online or at a big box bookstore. When you walk in, you are transformed to a different world away from the noise and traffic of the main road. Tables scattered around the room feature local and bestselling authors and the shelves contain a wide range of titles in many genres, and oftentimes a synopsis or personal review accompanies the selection. On top of this, there is a children’s annex bookstore attached, coffee available for purchase, a toy and craft area, and personable staff available to help with recommendations on anything from a book, favorite beach, or best restaurant in town.
   Chatham, Massachusetts, remains one of the most iconic beach vacation destinations in the Northeast. The spectacular coastline on the elbow of Cape Cod brings an average of 20-25,000 visitors to the small town in July and August alone. During a walk through the historic Main Street in Chatham, you will find the locally mother-daughter-owned bookstore, Where the Sidewalk Ends, which has been in business for over a decade.
   Shopping at a local bookstore means less transportation, less packaging, and a smaller carbon footprint. It also means that more of your money will stay in the community and help create higher-paying jobs for your neighbors in the long run while more of your taxes are reinvested locally. On top of this, local businesses donate to charities at more than twice the rate of national chains. With all of these positive reasons to shop local, why are customers still turning to retailers like Amazon for all of their literary needs? Shopping local may cost a few extra dollars, but it also comes with a personal experience that book selling giants can’t compete with.
  All of the small characteristics of Where the Sidewalk Ends are what creates the customer experience that sets the store apart from bookselling online. The fact that someone is there to assist you, give you reviews in real-time, and provide a desirable atmosphere for selecting your next read contributes to the experience you will have with the book itself.
   Co-owner Caitlin Doggart-Bernal opened the store with her mother in 2005 and says that her favorite part of owning a local bookstore is the chance to connect on a personal level with so many other readers, from the staff, to the authors, to the wonderful customers. “Stories have such power on a personal level for so many people," Doggart-Bernal says, "and it’s nice to be surrounded by people who also feel that spark."
   In response to customers using services like Amazon instead of shopping local, Doggart-Bernal admits, “It is like a punch to the gut when people wander in and exclaim about how charming our bookstore is and get advice on local restaurants and then inform us that they aren’t going to buy ‘This Particular Book’ because they can get it for less on Amazon. Which comes down to a few dollars, and the environmental costs of shipping. So we’ll try to pleasantly remind them that supporting small businesses is what keeps our town alive.” Without local businesses, Chatham and many other historic destinations would lose their small-town charm.
   To better engage customers and emphasize the special importance of buying local, Where the Sidewalk Ends does their best to create a community space for people to gather and talk about books, as well as supporting the town of Chatham. They invite authors in for readings and book signings, in addition to hosting weekly Wednesday Story Time for children of all ages. They also make donations to local fundraising events and schools, recently expanded their children’s area to be stroller friendly, and even set out a dog water bowl on the deck to welcome visiting pets – all things Amazon can’t do.
   While Amazon and other major booksellers are an issue for the indie bookstore community and pose a new challenge than what small business owners would have faced twenty years ago, such as cheaper prices and fast shipping, there is still a great amount of support for the underdogs.
   “The most heart-warming of all are the kids who come running in at the end of June, and fly up the split staircase to the children’s sections, while their parents inform us that this is their traditional kick-off to summer," Doggart-Bernal says. "[It's] the first stop for their family as they settle in for the season. A happy reunion to their summer stomping ground.”
   Despite what appears to be a troublesome time for indie bookstores based on the success of major chains and availability of cheaper options, there is still plenty of magic to be had in the experience of buying local.
  • About the Author
    Haleigh Byrnes is a junior Professional Writing and Strategic Communications major at Miami University and hails from Burlington, Vermont. When she’s not in school, you can find her reading a book on one of the many beautiful beaches along the East Coast.

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