Local Bookstores survive despite high tech challenges
By Joyell Nevins
In a sea of commercialism and mass production, the independent bookstore stands out like a lighthouse, drawing the would-be reader into a world that embraces quirkiness and goes around the standard line. That lighthouse is bright and shining in the Dayton area.
“Warriors of culture” was the name given by local poet Doug Collins to Bonnett’s Bookstore, located in Dayton’s Historic Oregon District. Bonnett’s is actually in its third generation of business; it started with owner Kevin Bonnett’s grandparents, Harold and Ruth, in 1939. They originally saved, traded and resold comic books and magazines. Books didn’t come until World War II, and the movie section grew in the ‘50s.
Bonnett’s isn’t the only place that kept the business in the family. Sam and Eddie’s Open Books, based in Yellow Springs, now has staff that includes Samantha and Eddie Eckenrode’s children Miriam and Polo (when he’s home from college).
Over in Fairborn, News Readers Bookstore started in 1967 with Michael and Joan Molnar and is now run by their children Allen and Diana Molnar. The third generation is creeping up, as Diana’s daughter Kara also now works the shop.
Like Bonnett’s, News Readers has evolved along the way. It started out as a newsstand and has expanded to include books and music. Diana said their “willingness to listen to the customer’s need” has helped the bookstore stay afloat.
To Diana and other bookstore owners, customers aren’t just a register receipt. They’re a vital part of the store
“We consider them part of the family,” she said, “We’ve had people from all over – physicists to younger people with children to older people to homeless people.”
Bonnett boasts that his customers are quite different than those of major chains.
“Folks who shop here and other used book shops are probably interested in digging a little deeper,” he said.
Sam and Eddie’s, previously Epic Bookshop, has also had its range of people. When the Eckenrodes took over the space (a few owners down the road), they opened a public art gallery/event space in the front apartment above the shop and brought in literary and writing/creativity related merchandise such as cards, gifts, pens journals, and music. They gave themselves the slogan “a gallery store for readers and writers,” encouraging artists and reaching out to those who wanted to write.
Aside from entertaining the owners and purchasing merchandise, customers also leave pieces of themselves. Bonnett’s ceiling is barely visible because of all the toys hanging from it – a tradition that started with a toy truck given to Kevin’s father Walter, and has morphed into a customer collection. Dark Star Books & Comics, which actually started as a back room in Epic 32 years ago, has its store mascot – the cat Mr. Eko – thanks to a customer.
Up north in Tipp City, owner Bill Jones and manager Amanda Carl of Browse Awhile Books may not have an animal mascot (they do welcome a ghost or two), but they do pay attention to what their customers want.
“You have to know what sells,” Carl said, “You have to stay with what’s popular or what’s not, and what the economy is doing.”
Browse Awhile actually opened in Sidney in 1980, and moved to Tipp City in 1990 because they ran out of room. They are pushing the confines of their current location, with a first floor that’s half a city block long and a basement bigger than that – all filled with books.
The Internet – books’ future, or books’ doom?
“People used to say TV would kill the book business. Didn’t happen. Most TV isn’t compelling enough to distract a reader from a good book,” Bonnett said.
But he relates that the Internet itself is a medium of the written word. So is the Internet killing bookstore business? Depends on who you ask.
Diana calls Amazon News Readers’s biggest competitor. She points out that even though customers think they’re getting a deal on cheap books, by the time you add shipping and the impersonal nature of the site, it’s not such a bargain.
Bonnett is still feeling out the Internet, saying the store staff has “dipped our toes in a few times – with lackluster to downright negative results. We are not opposed to online retail, we simply haven’t found a way to do it to our satisfaction,” he said.
However, Browse Awhile and Dark Star have embraced the Internet. Forty percent of Browse Awhile’s business comes from Internet sites like ABEBooks.com. Dark Star has a whole section of their books set aside for Internet sales, in ABEBooks, eBay and Amazon.
All for the Love of Books
Through the changing literary trends, the rise of the Internet, and the flux of the economy, local independent bookstores keep striving and fighting. Yes, it’s a business, but as Sam described it, it’s more of a “calling.”
Diana agreed, “You do it because you love customers or books, not the money.”
The owners and staff of these independent lighthouses keep working, not simply for a paycheck, but to keep the love of reading alive and offer a haven to those who seek it.
Reach DCP freelance writer Joyell Nevins at JoyellNevins@daytoncitypaper.com
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LOCAL BOOKSTORES IN THE AREA
News Readers Bookstore
4 W. Main St, Fairborn
Browse Awhile Books
118 E. Main St., Tipp City
Bonnett’s Book Store
502 E. 5th St., Dayton
Sam & Eddie’s Open Books
232 Xenia Ave., Yellow Springs
Dark Star Books & Comics
237 Xenia Ave., Yellow Springs
Around About Books
8 W. Main St., Troy
New and Olde Pages Book Shoppe
856 Union Blvd., Englewood
Reach DCP freelance writer Joyell Nevins at JoyellNevins@daytoncitypaper.com.