Article about Betts Books and other small indpendants

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Article about Betts Books and other small indpendants

Post by TheCollector » Fri Jun 12, 2009 6:50 am

Hey guys has an article about Betts Books and other independant bookstores. It's a pretty interesting read. ... ependents/

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I am an unabashed lover of the written word. I love books - have since I first figured out what those strange markings on the pages were. And there’s nothing quite like paying a visit to the bookstore. There are plenty of mega-retailers out there that are willing to service my literary jones. Not only are there giant booksellers like Borders and Barnes & Noble, but there is also a wealth of options on the Internet, such as These places have huge inventories and reasonable prices.

What they lack is soul.

While I respect and appreciate what these larger companies bring to the table, there is something to be said for dropping in at your local independent bookstore. Perhaps you won’t find the vast selection of books or the multitude of non-literary sale items, but what you will find is passion and experience.

Sounds like more than a fair trade to me.

The presence of these newer literary outlets, not to mention our country’s recent economic woes, has led locally-owned and operated shops in new directions. It’s all about adaptation. However, in talking to some of the owners of our local independents, it is clear that one thing has not and will not change. It’s their love for what they do, a love they unapologetically wear on their sleeves.

Take Stu Tinker, who has owned and operated Betts Bookstore for over 18 years. He has carved out a niche for his store - a small niche, but one in which he is the undisputed king of the hill. “Being small, we needed to find a niche,” Tinker said as we sat in his cozy Hammond Street shop. “Stephen King and Terry Goodkind are the only authors that we sell. We’re kind of known as the ‘Stephen King’ store.”

While the lion’s share of business is now conducted via phone or the Internet, Tinker’s store has become a bit of a tourist destination due to the King connection. The summer season is filled with walk-ins - tourists who are King fans. “We’ve had families from England, Germany, Italy. We’ve got customers in Beijing and Moscow. It blows my mind. One of the Moscow guys we’d been doing business with for a couple of years actually came in recently.”

The Goodkind connection has also been a good one for Tinker. Betts is the only bookstore that sells signed copies of Goodkind’s novels. In fact, even visitors to Goodkind’s Web site who are seeking autographed books are directed to Betts Bookstore.

Granted, it hasn’t been a walk in the park.

“The collectible market has dried up a bit. People are holding back,” said Tinker, citing economic uncertainty. He added that Ebay was a bit of a thorn in his side for a while, but many purchasers have since been scared off by forgeries and the like. Betts’ reputation among collectors, however, remains pristine. A quick glance at the display case in the rear of the store illustrates why. Signed and lettered books and special editions abound - a joy for collectors, or even just regular fans.

Success can be found in many ways. Stu Tinker did it his way.

And Marc Berlin did it his way.

Berlin, the owner of BookMarcs, has been operating his store in downtown Bangor for almost 20 years. He takes a different approach than that of Tinker, who said of BookMarcs: “one of the best I’ve ever been in; I really like his store.” And with good reason. It’s a space that manages to be fairly good-sized while still feel welcoming and intimate, filled with a wonderful selection of best-sellers, local authors and quality literature. Still, while one wouldn’t go so far as to call BookMarcs a specialty bookstore, the shop does have a few areas of emphasis.

“We try to stock books about the State of Maine and the City of Bangor,” Berlin said. “We also carry as many local authors as possible.” If the shelves are any indication, that effort can be deemed a successful one. Berlin also mentioned BookMarcs’ strong mystery section, as well as their section devoted to literary fiction.

However, every section of the store contributes to overall success. As Berlin put it, when he goes to the computer to view sales totals, “It’s always a surprise. It’s not as one-sided as I sometimes expect.”

When it comes to which books to stock, Berlin admitted that it can be a bit of a difficult process. While customer input is crucial in a market as small as Bangor, it can also turn into what Berlin deemed a “feedback loop” - a trap, if you will. “We try to stock what we enjoy and what customers want; we inform each other,” said Berlin. “When I started the store, I read about retail. At the time, the definition of professionalism was a kind of facelessness. The recipe for a thriving business was to create a store that was easy to duplicate - not specific to the owner.”

He initially tried to follow that formula, but soon realized it wouldn’t work. So, he figured he might as well create the kind of store in which he would enjoy spending his time. “The challenge is how to become small and personal, but still generate enough business to survive. A lot of times I feel like a dinosaur, in terms of being a small retailer. There aren’t a lot of small bookstores left. “Filling a niche in a small city is tough. It’s like trying to stand in a canoe in the middle of a rough lake - trying to keep the balance.”

Still, BookMarcs doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon.

“We’re always wondering what people want, and we keep trying. Some sections grow while others shrink; something is always changing.” And that ability to change, to adapt, is one of the main reasons we’re lucky to have bookstores such as Betts and BookMarcs. They might be a little smaller, but their hearts are bigger. Experience, passion and personality abound.

So check out your local bookstore, wherever you may be. Browse around, chat with someone, experience the atmosphere. Buying a book should be a unique experience, and with stores like these, that’s precisely what you’ll get.

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