“If everyone in Hoboken buys one book a year, we’ll be fine.”
One of the founders of Little City Books, Kate Jacobs, wrote a delightful post about the day Little City Books opened. The gist of her post is, “People walk in beaming. ‘A bookstore’ they say. ‘Thank you!’”
Hoboken, you see, did not have a bookstore. It is a city of about 50,000 bounded on its four sides by cliffs, the Hudson River, the Lincoln Tunnel, and water between between it and Jersey City. You can’t just pop up to the next town to buy a book. So we are indeed beaming and grateful that Little City Books has arrived.
Other bookstores were blown out of business when Barnes & Noble moved in a couple of decades ago. We went there – where else was there to go? But we didn’t like it. Then Barnes & Noble left, and there was more than just no book store; there was disgust at the irresponsibility of putting others out of business and then leaving town yourself—a familiar cycle of dysfunction in our towns and cities.
When everybody who was anybody said that, duh, e-books would displace hard-copy books, it seemed inevitable. But it turns out that the People prefer books they can hold in their hands; only 25-30% of books sold are e-books. As an author, I often send books to people to read, and by a large margin, they want something which has been signed by the author on their bookshelf, and my sales figures show a similar distribution of e-book sales.
The general assumptions (that box stores and e-books would dominate) did not work as prophesied. What would be the next business plan? Kate Jacobs, Donna Garban, and Emmanuelle Morgen thought about that as they strategized over the creation of Little City Books.
They began their public presence with an Indiegogo campaign. A snarky blogger wrote, “starting an Indiegogo campaign to help them pay for this sounds shitty. Who commits to starting a business unless they can afford it on their own?” Here’s who and here’s why. The whole community suffered by not having a bookstore. Local authors had no place to build up their audience, people turned to the less popular e-books but not because they wanted to, students and teachers in city schools were hampered, parents needed a storytime place on Saturday morning (the library and the used book store were not enough for the many families with young children in Hoboken), and a city which prides itself on its sophistication HAS TO HAVE A BOOKSTORE!
The sense of participation among those who contributed to the Indiegogo campaign deepened their pleasure when Little City Books opened in May. The burden of opening the store was not only on the owners, but on the rest of the community as well, for their mutual benefit.
In one early announcement, Little City Books quoted urban sociologist Ray Oldenberg to explain their vision. Places like bookstores “are social hubs that support civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and a sense of place.” In order to do this, Kate, Donna, and Emmanuelle hope “to have strong partnerships with all the local schools — bringing authors, hosting book fairs, and maintaining teacher wish lists… We want to develop literacy support programs, and collaborate with other local businesses on events.” Plans for permanence also include a presence at the nearby train station.
This bookstore has the city of Hoboken behind them, starting with our rockstar mayor, Dawn Zimmer. They have a chosen a strategic location, superbly curated their selection of books, easily make friends with their customers, and are riding on a new tide. If everyone in Hoboken buys just one book a year, LCB will be a success.
People walk in beaming. “A bookstore!” they say. ‘Thank you!’”
Tell the snarks to go to hell.
Little City Books, 100 Bloomfield Street, Hoboken, NJ
201 626-READ (7323)
Tags: bookstores, The business of writing