Central Oregon’s independent bookstores

The Hub

1059 NW Madras Highway, Suite 2, Prineville

541-903-0913

Paulina Springs Books,

252 W. Hood Ave., Sisters

541-549-0866

Herringbone Books

422 SW Sixth St., Redmond

541-526-1491

Roundabout Books

900 NW Mount Washington Drive, Suite 110, Bend

541-306-6564

Dudley’s Bookshop Cafe

135 NW Minnesota Ave., Bend

541-749-2010

Big Story Books & Movies

228 NE Greenwood Ave., Bend

541-617-9271

Sunriver Books & Music

57100 Beaver Drive, Building 25-C, Sunriver

541-593-2525

There are several other stores in the area that sell only used books.

The imminent demise of local bookstores across America has been predicted for the better part of the past two decades. This idea even became the plot of the 1998 movie “You’ve Got Mail,” which starred Meg Ryan as the owner of a small bookstore threatened by a new branch of Tom Hanks’ mega-chain bookstore opening across the street.

But almost 20 years later, Central Oregon has seven independent bookstores selling new books, along with several more used bookstores.

“It’s an urban legend that everyone believes about independent bookstores being an endangered species,” said Oren Teicher, chief executive officer of the American Booksellers Association based in New York. “The facts are 180 degrees opposite and have been for some years.”

ABA membership has increased 25 percent since 2009. The number of storefronts operated by those members has increased even more — up 40 percent since 2009 to 2,321 locations as of May 15. Nationally, book sales for association members have increased each year since 2012.

Past challenges

Like many urban legends, there were some truths driving those predictions of doom. Locally, the bookstores Book Barn (which had been in business for 35 years), Between the Covers and Camalli Book Company shuttered between 2008 and 2013, while several others underwent ownership changes and faced financial hardship.

Teicher estimates the ABA’s rolls peaked in the mid-1990s at around 3,000 members. However, the expansion of national bookstore chains in malls throughout America, increasing book sales at superstores such as Walmart, the growth of internet sales and ebooks, and the economic recession of the mid- to late-2000s all impacted the viability of independent bookstores and pushed many out of business.

Deon and Richard Stonehouse, owners of Sunriver Books & Music, soldiered on through much of that turmoil, and have the dent in their bank account to show for it.

“We only survived out of sheer stubbornness,” said Stonehouse. “But we burned through our savings.”

When the Stonehouses opened Sunriver Books & Music in The Village at Sunriver shopping center in August 2005, they’d already missed that year’s summer season due to delays completing the interior of the store. Then they had to survive neglectful property owners, the real estate market collapse and resulting recession, and an extended period of construction and renovation at the shopping center under new management.

Despite making it over all those hurdles, Deon Stonehouse is scared of the threat posed by the online retailing giant Amazon, not just to bookstores but other industries as well.

“If I’m going to eat, I have to make a profit, but Amazon’s shareholders have never insisted that they make a profit,” Stonehouse noted.

However, after several lean years during which she dipped into savings, things have started to turn around. Stonehouse reports Sunriver Books & Music is now turning a small profit.

“We’re still not making much — it’s a bookstore,” she said with a laugh. “What has changed is that communities have realized bookstores are a type of community center.”

To build customer awareness and draw people to the store, Stonehouse hosts several book clubs each month, and also brings in many well-known and critically-acclaimed authors for discussions and presentations throughout the year. Several other Central Oregon bookstores including, The Hub in Prineville, Paulina Springs Books in Sisters, Herringbone Books in Redmond and Roundabout Books in Bend also host frequent in-store events for customers.

The hybrid trend

Roundabout Books owner Cassie Clemons said she was laughed at by some local real estate agents when she approached them in early 2016 searching for retail space to lease for her store on Bend’s west side. They couldn’t believe she wanted to open a bookstore.

Despite the doubters, Clemons launched Roundabout Books in the NorthWest Crossing neighborhood on Halloween in 2016. Unlike many of the local bookstores that rely on tourist foot traffic for the bulk of their business, Roundabout relies more on building repeat business from area residents and students at the several schools and two college campuses nearby.

Clemons is taking the lessons she’s learned on the job during her first year to cut costs and grow the business moving forward.

One aspect of that plan is to make the cafe within the store profitable, rather than just a convenience for customers and the groups who meet there. She’s developing a menu of literary themed lattes, such as the Sherlock Holmes London Fog (an Earl Grey vanilla latte).

A cafe is also a big component of The Hub in Prineville and Dudley’s Bookshop Cafe in downtown Bend. This is a trend seen around the country with many bookstores incorporating cafes or bars. Dudley’s owner, Tom Beans, sees the cafe as central to his business. His sales are split almost 50-50 between the cafe and bookstore. The cafe sales also help offset some of the seasonal dips that impact book sales.

When he purchased Dudley’s in April 2015, Beans immediately revamped the cafe and provided more training for the baristas in order to improve the quality of the beverages being served. He also expanded Dudley’s new book section from around 5 percent to 45 percent of its total stock and revitalized the used book section of the store with fresh inventory to help increase repeat customers who will come back to browse new titles.

The changes seem to have worked, as Beans reports double-digit sales growth over the past 2½ years.

“It took me a while to figure out who was walking in the door and what they want to buy,” said Beans. “So much of what goes into a successful indie bookstore is the stock, and knowing what sells with your customers and what doesn’t.”

Contending with Amazon

Beans and many of the local bookstore proprietors also credit their success to their warm, cozy and inviting environment — something online retailers and larger chain stores can’t offer.

“The whole craft movement, whether it’s beer, jewelry, books or whatever has helped us too,” Beans said.

Kaci Aslamov, owner of Redmond’s Herringbone Books agrees. She purchased the store in December 2015 from previous owners Brad Smith and Cynthia Claridge, who had operated it since 2007 as a second outpost of Smith’s Paulina Springs Books location in Sisters.

“Consumers now are a little more aware of where their money is going and how that affects their community,” Aslamov said.

Since she can’t keep every title on the shelves at Herringbone that’s stocked at a larger store, Aslamov relies heavily on special ordering for customers and making people aware of that service.

Aslamov has a somewhat philosophical attitude toward the online juggernaut Amazon.

“I look at it as though they’re not really in the same business as we are,” Aslamov explained.

“We both sell books, but we’re in the business of customer service and community enrichment. They’re in the business of data management and maximizing profits and getting authors and publishers to work for less money.”

Big Story Books & Movies in Bend is Central Oregon’s newest bookstore, selling both used and new titles. It was launched in April in the former home of The Bookmark, which had been a used book store during its 14-year life.

Big Story owners Josh and Heidi Spencer also own The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles and originally planned to sell only used books at their Bend shop.

However, once they took possession of the space, the Spencers decided to completely renovate the interior and exterior and make it their own. They also overhauled the existing inventory, supplementing it with additional titles from their L.A. store, and adding a small selection of new books as well.

“We try to make sure we have the variety of inventory we need,” said Josh. “It’s hard to do that with just used books because we’re reliant on what people bring in.”

With around 95 percent of his inventory being used books, Spencer doesn’t feel the same sense of competition with Amazon as many other independent booksellers.

“In the used business we can sell cheaper and with no shipping expenses,” Spencer explained. “It would be harder for those just selling new books.”

Spencer and many of the other local booksellers point out that the attraction of independent bookstores to many customers is their knowledgeable and well-read staff, along with their individuality.

“I think we each have somewhat different inventory,” Spencer said. “Big Story tries to be pretty broad, while many of the others have specialties or niches, maybe based on the owner’s reading preferences.”

Teicher from the American Booksellers Association echoes that conclusion. “Independent bookstores have great entrepreneurial spirit,” he said.

“They have to be willing to continually reinvent themselves and adapt to changes in the industry and in their community, and their engagement in the community helps fuel their success.”

So while Meg Ryan’s acting career and the AOL email service featured in “You’ve Got Mail” have all but disappeared, the fortunes of Central Oregon’s independent bookstores are looking up.

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