NEW YORK (AP) – Laura Romani, a Chicago resident with experience in education and library science, was thinking about a new career.
“I was at home a few years ago thinking about all the experience I gained and how I wanted to contribute to the Latino community, while allowing myself to be alone and use my love of books and my passion for multilingualism,” she says.
The solution: Start a bookstore. With local subsidies and incentive checks she and her husband received during the pandemic, Romani launched Los Amigos Books, initially as an online store last year and now with a small physical store with a bright blue face in Bervin, Illinois. Focuses on children’s stories in English and Spanish.
“Everything goes hand in hand,” Romani said of his decision.
Stores like Romani’s have helped a year of solid growth and greater diversity for the American Booksellers Association, a group of independent bookstore owners. According to CEO Alison Hill, the association already has 2,010 members in 2,547 seats, an increase of more than 300 since the spring of 2021. This is the highest overall ABA in years, although the association tightened the rules in 2020. and allow only stores that “mostly sell books” (over 50 percent of the inventory), unlike all stores that offer books. The ABA also no longer counts sellers whose memberships are inactive.
Hill attributes part of the rise to homeowners, who delayed renewing their membership in early 2021, reflecting uncertainty about the impact of the pandemic. But a significant number of additions, well over 100, are stores that have opened in the past year, dozens of them owned by people from a greater variety of racial and ethnic groups. These stores range from Libelula Books & Co. in San Diego to Yu and Me Books in New York’s Chinatown, from the Modern Tribe Bookshop in Killeen, Texas, to the Socialight Society in Lansing, Michigan.
The ABA, long largely white, set up a committee on diversity and inclusion last year after board president Jamie Fioko acknowledged in June 2020 – after the assassination of George Floyd – that the association had not done enough to “break down barriers to membership and the service for blacks, locals and people of color. ”
“The growth of BIPOC stores is a big change for us,” says Hill.
Like the Roma, many new owners have had previous careers or still have them aside. Sonia Spencer is working as a consultant to help fund The Urban Reader in Charlotte, North Carolina, a store focusing on African-American books, which she opened in part because of the Black Lives Matters movement and her concerns about growing book bans. In Locust Grove, Georgia, Erica Atkins was a college teacher and trainer who, while recovering from surgery, had a vision – divine, she said – that she needed to open a store that is now Birdsong Books.
“I dedicated my life to sharing knowledge,” she says. “Every time I talk to someone, I give recommendations for books.”
In Osining, New York, Amy Hall is vice president of Eileen Fisher, who says her work in fashion has inspired her to open Hudson Valley Books for Humanity. She scanned her bookshelves and began to think about how resilience in clothing could be applied to what she read. She decided to set up a shop that offered mostly used books and otherwise reflected Ossining’s economic and ethnic diversity.
“I wanted to build a bookstore to accommodate people from all these different segments of our community,” she said. The new books she keeps in stock focus on social justice and the environment, among other issues.
After initial fears that the pandemic would devastate book sales, publishers have made strong profits in the past two years and independent retailers have endured. Hill and others feared that hundreds of member stores could close in 2020. Instead, about 80 closed and only 41 went out of business in 2021.
The independent sale of books is a sustainable business, but rarely secure. For decades, this has been a history of hurdles – whether the rise of Barnes & Noble’s “supermarkets” in the 1990s helped drive thousands of ABA members out of business, the growing power of Amazon.com or such recent problems as supply chain delays and price inflation.
Spencer of the city bookstore says higher costs, especially for rent and delivery, have forced her to struggle. Atkins of Birdsong Books noticed a big jump in Bible prices, with the price of King James’ edition rising by several dollars. At Changing Hands bookstores in Arizona, buyer Miranda Myers noticed several price changes, including Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility, one of the best literary editions of the spring, and Rachel Smythe’s upcoming book Lore Olympus.
Myers said he “definitely notices that these price increases have been happening more and more lately.” At the same time, according to Changing Hands owner Gale Shanks, sales are “growing, much higher. We had the best first quarter we’ve ever had in Store History, and this second quarter is also moving up. People seem to be reading more than ever.” “
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