NEW YORK (AP) – Chicago area resident Laura Romani with a background in education and librarianship was considering a new career.
“I was at home a couple of years ago reflecting on all the experience I gained and how I wanted to contribute to the Latin community, also allowing myself to be alone and to exploit my love for books and passion for multilingualism,” she says.
The solution: open a library. With the help of a local grant and stimulus 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 brick-and-mortar storefront. bright blue in Berwyn, Illinois. It focuses on children’s stories in English and Spanish.
“Everything goes hand in hand,” says Romani of his decision.
Stores like Romani’s contributed to a year of solid growth and greater diversity for the American Booksellers Association, the commercial group for independent bookstore owners. According to CEO Allison Hill, the association now has 2,010 members, across 2,547 locations, an increase of more than 300 since the spring of 2021. It’s the highest ABA total in years, although the association tightened its numbers in 2020. rules and only stores that “sell primarily books” (over 50 percent of inventory) are allowed, as opposed to any store that offers books. Also, the ABA no longer counts sellers whose memberships are inactive.
Hill credits part of the increase to owners who delayed subscription renewals in early 2021, reflecting uncertainty about the impact of the pandemic. But a substantial number of the additions, well over 100, are stores that have opened in the past year, owned by dozens of people from a wider variety of racial and ethnic groups. These stores range from Libelula Books & Co. in San Diego to Yu and Me Books in New York City’s Chinatown, from Modern Tribe Bookshop in Killeen, Texas, to Socialight Society in Lansing, Michigan.
The long-predominantly white ABA set up a diversity and inclusion committee last year after council chairman Jamie Fiocco acknowledged in June 2020 – in the wake of George Floyd’s murder – that the association had not done enough to “break down barriers to membership and service for blacks, natives and people of color.”
“The rise of BIPOC stores is a big change for us,” says Hill.
Like the Romans, many new owners have had previous careers, or still have them on the side. Sonyah Spencer works as a consultant to help fund The Urban Reader in Charlotte, North Carolina, a store focusing on African American books that she opened in part due to the Black Lives Matters movement and her concern over increasing bans on books. In Locust Grove, Georgia, Erica Atkins was a university teacher and trainer who, while recovering from surgery, had a vision – divine, she believes – that she should have opened a shop, what is now Birdsong. Books.
“I’ve dedicated my life to sharing knowledge,” he says. “Whenever I’m having a conversation with someone, I give advice on books.”
In Ossining, New York, Amy Hall is vice president of Eileen Fisher and says her work in fashion inspired her to open Hudson Valley Books for Humanity. She had browsed her shelves and started thinking about how sustainability in clothing could apply to what she reads. She decided to start a shop that offered mostly used books and that otherwise reflected Ossining’s economic and ethnic diversity.
“I wanted to build a library that would welcome people from all of these different segments of our community,” he said. The new books he keeps in stock focus on social justice and the environment, among other things.
After initial fears that the pandemic would devastate book sales, publishers have made strong profits over the past two years and independent sellers have held up. Hill and others had feared that hundreds of partner stores might close in 2020. Instead, about 80 closed and only 41 went out of business in 2021.
Independent book selling is a resilient but rarely safe business. For decades it has been a history of facing obstacles, be it the rise of the Barnes & Noble “superstores” in the 1990s that helped bankrupt thousands of ABA members, the growing power of Amazon.com or recent problems such as supply chain delays and price inflation.
Spencer from Urban Bookstore says higher costs, particularly for rent and shipping, have made her struggle to break even. Atkins of Birdsong Books noted a large increase in Bibles prices, with the price of a 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 releases of spring, and the upcoming book Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe.
Myers said he was “definitely noticing that these price hikes are happening more and more lately.” At the same time, according to Changing Hands owner Gayle Shanks, sales “have gone up, up a lot. We’ve had the best first quarter we’ve ever had in. The story of the store and this second quarter are also up. people seem to be reading more than ever. “
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