From today’s Toronto Star comes this feel-good story about The Cookbook Store, a Toronto landmark celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The story also has some good lessons for those who wonder how book retail can continue to survive and thrive in today’s Amazon-and-Internet economy. Some takeaways?
Go with the Flow
The article mentions that the store’s founder started in on a five-year lease and figured she would ‘see what happens.’ I think that’s a healthy attitude. I’ve read too many articles about book publishing whose authors twisted themselves into knots trying to predict how the business model was going to change into the next new and permanent forever-after iteration. But there is no forever. You have to be willing to take what comes and work with it.
Change with the Times
This is the second vital ingredient in going with the flow—being willing to change with the times. Specifically, the article mentions that as people became more interested in author events and hands-on demonstrations (which worked nicely with the cookbook theme), the store expanded into a kitchen next door so they could run these events.
Grow Within Your Means
Related to the above, plan your growth smartly. The store does periodically host an event that’s larger than their space can accommodate. Rather than over-extend themselves by renovating to accommodate this rare situation, they rent space as needed for big events.
Offer Something Special
One way the owners get around the ‘you can just buy it on Amazon’ mentality is to offer rare and unique items. They also make their author signings and book events special. Food is cooked from the recipes in the book being featured. As manager Alison Fryer explains: “Since the Internet, people often want more than a signing. They want to learn more, to engage about food.”
Build Relationships with Your Customers
The Cookbook Store is located right on the outskirts of the trendy Yorkville area, and one of the frequent customers quoted in the article is a chef at one of the trendy Yorkville restaurants. “I love the people, the selection,” he says. “I like to see what’s coming out, and they always know the restaurant gossip.”
Itis possible for retail brick-and-mortar bookselling to still have its niche. The Cookbook Store seems to be doing quite well these days, even if it does mean doing more than just sell books.