Friday, December 9, 2011

The Deal

This whole Ditch Amazon Day has been interesting, to say the least. We have received much more publicity about it than I ever thought (booksellers like to share news, especially of bold moves against The Man). There have been some flubs. One news outlet listed the wrong store in their article. Another just listed that we are asking people to bring in proof that they bought something from Amazon to get the discount. So I thought I would take this opportunity to make things as clear as possible:

On Saturday, December 10th, from 10am - 7pm, bring in proof that you have CLOSED your account, and we will give you 15% off one purchase and a $5 gift certificate to be used another day. This discount on only good on items currently in the store and does not combine with other discounts.

When you close an account on Amazon, you get a final email that politely thanks you for closing it. Print that out and bring it in. Pretty simple. We, and retailers in McMinnville, Oregon and beyond thank you!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ditch Amazon and support brick and mortar stores.

Some of you many know, this Saturday, Amazon is encouraging people to participate in the genocide of brick and mortar retailers. Here is an article in the Wall Street Journal that you can read about it. Go to a “traditional” store with your smartphone where you have already downloaded Amazon’s “Price Check App”. Then find an item you would like, and scan the barcode. Amazon will take you to their website (while you are standing in a physical store, hopefully feeling a shimmer of shame) and offer you that product cheaper. If you then buy the product from them, they will credit you $5.
I have a problem with this on so many levels. Using my stores (or any other brick and mortar store for that matter) as a showroom is not cool. I am thinking that I should start charging Amazon a fee for using my space, my hard working staff and my creativity for producing an environment where people want to hang out and shop. I know that retailers spend lots of money and time carefully selecting the product they sell in an atmosphere that is welcoming. I also know that not everyone can carry everything, but isn’t a diverse shopping experience part of what makes communities interesting? Imagine McMinnville without even 25% of its smaller retail stores. Would it be the same? I hear all the time from customers who have recently moved to the area that one of the reasons they settled in McMinnville is because of Third Street and the wonderful environment that exists. What if all of a sudden 13 retailers on Third Street were gone? We do more than contribute to a nice place to live too. Currently, between my two businesses I employ eleven people. Not a ton, but a start. I also support the local economy by paying taxes and providing a lot of donations to local schools and non-profits. I have never seen an Amazon gift card that was donated at a local fundraiser.
This “Price Check App” smacks of consumer spy-ware. If you have this on your smartphone, you are agreeing to let Amazon see all of your browsing and purchasing habits. Not to mention the location of where you go (phone as GPS tracking device anyone?). This enables Amazon to tailor their website to only show you stuff you have expressed interest in. The beauty of a traditional store is that we have everything out for all to see. I don’t notice who is walking down the street and only put the bestseller mysteries out front since that is all they have ever purchased from me. I believe that shopping either of my stores is a personal choice and while you are in them, you are exposed to items you may never otherwise see online or anywhere else in town. Isn’t that what people like about browsing?
My father would have said that this kind of behavior is what business is all about. And I agree with him. I am actually a little impressed with Amazon’s strategy. Even if it doesn’t work fiscally, it sure is giving them a lot of free publicity. But on a more philosophical level, I just think it is mean. I think all brick and mortar retailers (not just the little guys) should band together and fight. Amazon already plays dirty by avoiding their tax duties in many states. They are bullies in the school yard, and sadly, there doesn’t seem to be anyone brave (or big) enough to tell them to buzz off.
Ironically for me, books are excluded as a part of this nutty scheme. Why, I don’t know. But it still really chaps my hide.

Here is another bookseller's perspective.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Grim. That is how I feel lately. And I am fairly certain that it has nothing to do with the Halloween holiday coming up soon. I am feeling grim about the future of independent bookstores. I have been a bookseller since 1995. This was just after Amazon went live. People talked about the imminent death of the brick & mortar bookstore. I believed that people would always want to touch a book before they bought it. I believed that the experience of shopping in a well appointed store would fulfill not just a need for reading material, but a need to belong to something. Bookstores are their own community: welcoming of all. But these communities are dying. Borders is gone. Barnes & Noble has shuttered a number of sites in recent months. There are countless independent stores that no longer exist. You can read here a nice little piece in the Economist about the changing industry.

For years I believed that I could create a space that would elude these threats. With a little grit and humor, I could survive the behemoths. And I have, to a degree. The threats my store (and others) face are not just technological ones. Everyone is facing hard times in this economy. Everyone is trying to survive. I recognize that when there are fewer dollars coming in, tough choices are made about where the dollars going out go. Sometimes I wonder, do we really need books? I mean, as humans, could we survive without them? Physiologically, yes. But emotionally? I don't believe that I could. So I am trying to make changes that will help my little store survive. Some will be subtle, you won't even notice it. But others will be big. You will always find Third Street Books, either in the flesh or online to be a vibrant community. Third Street Books will always be there to special order that book for you and get it to you in a few days (with no shipping charge). We will always be able to recommend a title for your Uncle Bob or your niece who you barely know but her mother tells you she loves some title called The Hunger Games. We will always gift wrap (for free) a quick little joke gift that you bought on your lunch for your office-mate - making that gift of yours a tiny bit more special. And we will continue to support people in the community, by hiring them, paying local taxes, donating cash and books to local schools, raising money for the food bank and just generally being a safe and inviting place to hang out. I would really like to hear from someone who successfully got a donation from Amazon for the local FFA fundraising dinner.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Half the Sky. Or, even a sliver of sky will do.

In preparation for Nicholas Kristof's visit to McMinnville this evening, I have been re-reading some parts of his book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. There is much to take away from this book, but there is one piece in particular that I find resonates with me on many levels. For those of you not familiar with this book, Mr. Kristof and his co-author and wife Sheryl WuDunn ( a Pulitzer prize-winning team, no less) have presented a book that challenges us to work towards the end of oppression for women worldwide, effectively aiding in the end of global poverty. One small bit really caught me. In this chapter, Kristof and WuDunn address the hows and some of the whys of helping women living in deplorable conditions in brothels and as slaves. Just as I start to feel overwhelmed with the responsibilities (yes, I believe that it IS a responsibility of those who can help to do so), the authors give me a pass, of sorts. I will quote them since I have never won a Pulitzer:

"We may not succeed in educating all the girls in poor countries, or in preventing all women from dying in childbirth, or in saving all the girls who are imprisoned in brothels. But we think of Neth and remember a Hawaiian parable taught to us my Naka Nathanial, the former Times videographer, himself a Hawaiian:
A man goes out on the beach and sees that it is covered with starfish that have washed up in the tide. A little boy is walking along, picking them up and throwing them back into the water.
"What are you doing, son?" the man asks. "You see how many starfish there are? You'll never make a difference."
The boy paused thoughtfully, and picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean.
"It sure made a difference to that one," he said."

I really appreciate this perspective. Sometimes in this world I am overwhelmed by all the opportunities/responsibilities that I feel I must complete. Help people in need. Provide quality education for all. Feed the hungry. Recycle and save the planet. It is great to be reminded that every little bit, no matter how seemingly insignificant, actually does make a difference.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A kids book, not for kids

I apologize if this book (or even the idea of it) offends you. That is not my intent. As a parent, and a book lover, I just thought this was funny.

Click here for more information about the title, to be released in October.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A little light reposting...

Cinda Baxter is a wonder who is behind the 3/50 program nationwide. Her story is one of supporting locally owned, independent businesses. She takes this message across the country and tries to help small retailers. Her blog posting this morning really rings true, and I thought it worth re-posting.

“Local” is about more than a zip code

by Cinda Baxter on March 9, 2011 · 4 comments

When “buy local”/”shop local” messaging hit its stride two years ago, big boxes and national chains quickly realized their corner on marketplace visibility was being eclipsed. Cost-conscious consumers were not only thinking about the price of an item, but the impact of where they purchased it. Before long, we saw mega-retailers repackaging the “buy local” message to include themselves—they’d procure broccoli from a nearby grower, then advertise themselves as part of the “local” movement. Carry meat packaged by a company located in a nearby town, then tell consumers they were buying “local.”

Uh yeah…not so much.

Well, Chapter Two of The Repackaging of Buy Local has begun to roll out, and it’s even more troubling.

To really understand its impact, we need to first remind ourselves what the phrase “buy local” was initially intended to mean. “Buy local,” “shop local,” local first,” and other similar tag lines focused on one of two things: The source of a product and/or the point of purchase—neither of which being a large, national corporate entity. These were “independent” businesses with no outside branded support. You know…the little guys.

When the economy slid south, then stayed there, consumers began thinking—actually thinking!–-about the impact of their spending habits. Sure, the majority are still frequenting big boxes for the best deal, but many have begun to recognize that convenience comes with its own price tag. Big boxes and national chains send their revenue out of town. Lots of it. Most of it. And that means less money for the folks who live in that community. For their fire department. The police department. The city streets.

Their quality of life.

Fast forward to Chapter Two.

Since the first attempt to jump on the local bandwagon fared poorly, a new game plan is being rolled out. Now, either on their own or with the help of community organizations, the message is being twisted by insinuation that “local” is all about location—which includes every single national chain and big box in town. This usurped version of “buy local” is being packaged as “Buy Mayberry” (or whatever the town’s name is), arguing that any purchase made with any business in town brings equal revenue home. Not so. Not even close.

Now…before someone begins throwing darts this direction…let me be clear. Not all “Buy Mayberry” programs include big boxes, franchises, and national chains. Many are built to support the merchants in town that are 100% locally owned, no national or regional branding, no outside corporate help. All local all the time. They give the most back. They should get the most attention.

But many are rolling out an ill-conceived message that spending with a nearby mega-store does as much financial good for the community as selecting an independent merchant. Which is simply not true.

From the study provided by Civic Economics:

For every $100 spent with a local, independent brick and mortar business, $68 returns to the local economy. Spend the same $100 with a big box or national chain and only $43 remains in the local economy.

Then, there’s the addition of internet sales, from The 3/50 Project:

Spend that same $100 online, and unless you live in the exact same community as the e-tailer, nothing comes home.

National chains bank out of town (for all but very few of us, out of state).

They don’t replenish business consumables via local stores.

They don’t bring new jobs to town; they displace that number of employees currently working for other local businesses.

When they make a charitable donation, it goes to the charity’s national office, not the local chapter (and certainly not the small non-profits who have no national office).

They don’t pay the same property tax rates small businesses do—theirs is negotiated lower.

They simply don’t put the money back into the town it comes from.

Yes, big boxes and national chains are here to stay, and yes, they play a role in the local economy. But I strongly advise any community considering a “Buy Mayberry” (or similar) promotion be very, very clear about who, exactly, it is they’re promoting.

If your plan includes big boxes and national chains, it’s not ”local.” It’s corporate. It’s about zip codes. And it will cost your community dearly long term.

That’s a pretty steep price to pay for short term, feel-good visibility.

NOTE: to read more from Cinda, please go to her website here. Thanks!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Borders, Amazon and you.

These are interesting times for booksellers. Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this week. You can read more about it here. Since this is where I started my bookselling career, I do feel a little verklempt. The downtown Portland store closed in early January and many more store closings are on the horizon. I never like to see ANY bookstore close. We are lucky in the northwest to have access to many options if we want to buy books, be it Third Street Books, Borders, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Annie Blooms, Parnassus Books, the Book Bin, A Children's Place, even the internet. For many communities in America, stores like Borders were the ONLY source of reading material besides WalMart and Costco. There are places where Borders represents a cultural oasis in a wasteland of strip malls, big box cinemas and parking lots. A moment of silence is warranted.

Amazon on the other hand has gotten a bit too big for its britches, if you ask me. In many states where collecting sales tax is required for all retail outlets that have a physical presence in the state, Amazon has refused to do so. There exist some federal and state tax loopholes that allow Amazon to do this. However, bit by bit, states are fighting back. The Texas state comptroller recently sent Amazon a tax bill of $269 million. Amazon tossed its weight around and threatened to close a distribution facility is has in Texas and lay off all of its employees if it was made to pay this bill. Fortunately, the comptroller stuck to her guns (Texas-style, I'm sure) and didn't back down. Unfortunately, those employees are now out of work. While I feel deeply for those people, I am angered by the way Amazon (and admittedly other large corporations) seem to believe that they are above the laws that apply to everyone else doing business in a state. You can read more about it here and here.

You still have choices. As Americans that is one of our most sacred freedoms: to choose. Sure, sometimes we make decisions blindly, or just go with what is easiest or the status quo. But I hope that more and more people are thinking about the power of the choices we make. Be it where you spend your hard earned dollars, where you send your kids to school, what to eat or how to vote, we have the liberty to decide what is best for us, our families and our communities. Choose wisely.