Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Competitor is Planned for 2 Miles Away from Me--What's the Correct Response?

Ever since I made plans to open Boswell Book Company on Downer Avenue in Milwaukee, some folks have asked "What about the Shorewood location? Who's going to reopen that?"

I would reply that Schwartz Bookshops went out of business because they were losing money for many years and the family could no longer subsidize them with moneys from 800-CEO-READ, their corporate sales division. Both Shorewood and Downer Avenue were money losers, particularly after the spread of corporate expense, but it was my plan that with a very lean operation, one store covering both markets might make it.

When pressed, I'd remind people that my store is 10 blocks from Shorewood.

When folks asked why I chose not to reopen the Shorewood store instead of Downer Avenue, I also had reasons. I was concerned about Roundys being my landlord, and about the future reconstruction of the Pick 'n' Save. I really did not want to run a cafe (big money loser for Schwartz, particularly after Stone Creek and Starbucks took all the profitable take-out business) and felt that opening the store without it would immediately set me off on the wrong foot with the community.

Our biggest advantage at the Shorewood location was parking, but if we had located on Capitol Drive or further north on Oakland Avenue, that advantage would be negated. We've only had a few issues with parking so far. The last time we got a complaint, Amie looked out the window and saw two open spaces in front of our store. It's definitely more of a problem of perception.

It's likely that the Shorewood cafe is the driver in much of this. Though the village has multiple coffee bars (in addition to the obvious Stone Creek and Starbucks, there is also the Last Drop, Cafe Nation/Smoothie Nation, City Market, Anaba Tea Room, and Einstein's), some restaurants and bars, and a lovely library that would surely love a cafe attached, nothing had the grandness of the Shorewood bookstore cafe. Unlikely many bookstore cafes at indie bookstores that are tucked away and closed off, Shorewood's was open concept and had fabulous viewing space to and from the street. It was high-profile space, and for only the price of a coffee, you could stay as long as you wanted.

I think about how much the Shorewood store was affected by the Bayshore Barnes and Noble, three miles away. We learned that lesson twice, because the store opened and closed, and then opened again. Though you may have thought the store didn't seem that different in terms of traffic, our sales suffered, and it really affected profitability.

I'm already effectively competing with the internet, chain stores, big boxes (doing second hand buyback, it's true that some of my good customers not only buy books from B&N and Borders, but also from Target--I see the stickers!), and specialty stores in the neighborhood. To them, even though I'm continuing on an existing store, I'm effectively the interloper.

So of course I wish Lisa (my ex-coworker at Schwartz) the best. But I can't help worrying that two general bookstores in this environment, with the book business in the predicament it’s in, could spell the survival of neither. We'll see how it goes.

No comments: