16 May

Portrait: Connie Brooks, Saving The Bookstore

by Jon Katz
Saving The Bookstore
Saving The Bookstore

Connie Brooks is a friend, she owns and runs Battenkill Books, the thriving and very beautiful independent bookstore right in the middle of my small town, Cambridge, N.Y. Connie and I have been working together for some years now, she has sold thousands of copies of my book – i will sign and personalize any books of mine purchased from Battenkill.

A few years ago, we mid-list writers (that means we sell well, but are generally not among the big best-sellers) were told by our publishers that independent bookstores were dead, Amazon would kill off most of them and Barnes & Noble would get the rest.

That has not happened. Barnes & Noble is struggling, selling off its huge book and craft emporiums, and Amazon is selling groceries and dog supplies. They still sell most books sold in America but  not all of them, something surprising happened. The Independent bookstores have held their own and are making comebacks all across the country.

One reason for the survive of these bookstores are people like Connie Brooks. They are new kind of bookstore owner. They understand business as well as literature, they make good decisions and keep an eye on the cash flow as well as the best-sellers.  They love books, but they also learned from Amazon: customer service is not just about having books in the store, it is about knowing customers, treating them well, making them feel safe and comfortable and giving them what they want.

Bookstores were an elitist business until just a few years ago, most Americans were uncomfortable going into one. Connie knows better. She is a shrewd business person. She manages her inventory, responds to evolving markets (her new children’s book section is an instant hit in our small town), she is open seven days a week, knows almost all of her customers by name, is active in the community.

She knows our community well. She has not lost customers, she has gained many, even in the age of the e-book. The writers who live in our small community know and love her and work with her all of the time. She is also a devoted mother and wife, she is careful to balance her life, she operates a wonderful bookstore, but it does not consume  her, at least not yet.

How fortunate we are to have so great a bookstore in so small a town. New York City would love to have that kind of store in Manhattan, but the rents there make it impossible.

She always has a slightly bemused look in her eye. People from all over the country – many of the blog readers here – call the store often and buy all of their books from Connie. So she not only has local customers, but many around the country. People are hungry for the advice, patience and courtesy that is the hallmark of the store. it would be a great shame if our only source of books was the very corporate-driven books at Amazon.

Connie’s staff is gracious and helpful and patient. They are happy to talk with people.  Community lives, so does the small and independent bookstore, even in the face of the great corporate tsunami sweeping America. Connie Brooks has helped to save them.

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