Kent Swindle is used to seeing bent elbows, but his customers are holding books, not throwing back a cold one.
“Sometimes I feel like a bartender. We have people who come in and tell us their whole life story, but it’s a great place to come and talk.”
That’s how Swindle, owner of the Book Stop in Wheat Ridge, describes owning an independent book store today.
Swindle is one of the last of a dying breed, one that has been decimated by the economy, a shift to electronic means of not only for ordering books, but reading them as well.
With Barnes & Noble as the only real, boots-on-the-ground competition since Borders folded in 2011, surviving in the market hasn’t gotten any easier for independent shops.
Yet, some stores do remain, and those who work there have built up an extremely loyal customer base by becoming experts on books and customer service and by trading in cheaper used books and hard-to-find titles.
“You can’t beat us book people down. We treat every book like a sacred individual,” said Dave Harrison, who has worked at Black and Read in Arvada for almost seven years. “Our expertise is what makes us better than chains.”
While most independent book stores mainly feature used books, it is still important to meet customer demand on current popular titles — from “50 Shades of Grey” to the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series by George R.R. Martin.
Customer relationships help bookstore owners/managers know what to order when it comes to popular titles.
“We try to get in what people are looking for, and if there are popular titles we have people looking for often. We can order them from other independent sellers,” said Wayne Leanza, co-owner of the Book Cranny in Arvada.
Ignoring the online markets would be a mistake, but these shops are using it as a tool.
“We started out selling books online, so we’re very aware of the prices being charged for books, and price accordingly,” said Leanza.
Book Cranny co-owner Angelika Behrooz said that the shop will even do ordering online for people who would rather not do it themselves.
“Some people don’t know how to find these cheaper books, don’t want to put their credit card information online or just don’t want to take the time to do it,” she said. “We’re happy to do the ordering for the people who would rather not.”
While Black and Read, the Book Stop and Book Cranny don’t have near the space that a Barnes & Noble does, they all make up for it by maximizing the space they do have.
Any customer who walks into the shops will be astounded by the sheer volume of books in the space, with shelves following every contour and wall.
Since all three shops buy books from individuals — some offer cash, some trade credit — the inventory is constantly changing, making frequent visits a good idea if a shopper wants to snatch up new titles.
Each store carries an equally impressive array of genres.
“We know many of the older men like the Westerns, and we have plenty of romances for women, but we also carry a lot of mystery-thrillers,” Swindle said. “There are so many genres out there, and we have something for everyone.”
Book collectors who are looking for hard-to-find titles can spend hours going through the collected rarities at the stores.
At Black and Read one is likely to find Stephen King novels on one shelf, and old hardback copies of “The Complete Set of Roman Drama” or three-volume set of “The Life of Samuel Johnson.”
While the actual stock and layout is different in each shop, the attitude is the same — care about the books and care about the customers.
“It’s a good job because the people who come into bookstores always make for good conversation,” Harrison said.
Talking to customers about their favorite books is one of the best parts of the job, according to Behrooz.
“We’re very available for customers and we love to suggest books,” she said. “We want people to feel welcome to come and browse and chat with us.”