Wednesday, October 11, 2006

From: Paul Ryburn's Journal

Why we need a big chain bookstore downtown

This morning I got an e-mail from Memphis Tobacco Bowl/Downtown Books. They were responding to my recent suggestion that the soon-to-be-vacant Tower Records space in Peabody Place Mall would be a good spot for a Borders or other large chain bookstore:
"You could walk over to 152 Madison, in the heart of Downtown, where there's a bookstore and a coffee shop."
I wasn't meaning to knock Downtown Books in any way when I made that suggestion. The Tobacco Bowl is a great place, and I've had many days off work that I've walked over to Tobacco Bowl and sat at Tracy's coffee bar and had a great time. The Tobacco Bowl is a real asset to downtown - I don't smoke but I know they carry a large assortment of quality cigars, sold by someone who is knowledgeable enough to direct you toward something you'll like. They have really gone far to make their customers feel at home, adding the coffee bar, free wireless Internet and comfortable seating. And now they have added Downtown Books, yet one more reason to go into 152 Madison (between Second and Third, if you're not familiar with the area). If you like cigars, or coffee, or books, or friendly people, I highly recommend you stop by.

However, I still contend that downtown needs a big chain bookstore. Here's why:

1) We need a bookstore that stays open until at least 10 at night. And 11 or midnight would be even better. I get home from work about 5 in the afternoon. Downtown Books closes at 5, according to their website. That means the only day I can hang out there is Saturday. I would love to have a bookstore where I can go and read and hang out after work. Heck, it'd be a nice alternative to going out to bars every night. But at this point in Downtown's development, it would be a huge financial risk for a small business to extend its hours until 10 or 11. The big chains can afford that risk.

2) There's a certain legitimacy that comes with a big chain's name value. People are more likely to say, "Oh, if I lived Downtown I'd be able to walk to Borders; maybe it's time to move down there." They're already familiar with the shopping experience at Borders, having been to the one out east. And I'm not claiming that that experience is better than the one you would have at a mom-and-pop store, but it's perception. People tend to gravitate toward what's familiar, and a lot more people are familiar with the big chains.

3) Larger selection. Big chain stores have more space, which means they can keep more in stock. True, a small store could order any book a customer requests, but when I want a book, I want it now, not a week from now. If I were willing to wait a week, I'd just get on and order it myself.

For these reasons, I believe a big chain bookstore would increase foot traffic on Downtown streets, which in turn would benefit other Downtown businesses. I even think Downtown Books/Tobacco Bowl would benefit in the long run; once down here, some people would discover that there's another place a few blocks away that doesn't charge for wireless Internet and has better coffee, more comfortable seating, fine cigars, and good conversation. So, I really think having a Borders or Bookstar or B&N Downtown would be a win for everybody.

Now we just gotta convince one of the big chains that it would be a win for them...

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