Often this leads to bookstores expanding there focus; instead of just books, they carry books and coffee. They add in a line or three of semi-book-related objects (book lights, book marks, or book covers), and several things that have nothing to do with books (chocolates, box kits, lotions, etc). Books, while still a big part of the focus, are no longer the total focus as the owners juggle ideas to hit the jackpot combination that will draw people in.
While I would love a bookstore with a good wine and cheese serving café hooked on (a glass of wine, a plate of cheese and a good book? Yum!), these extras are not what I focus on when I walk into a store. My focus, upon entering a new bookstore, goes like this:
1. Window displays: do they draw me into the store?
2. Display tables and Wall bays: Are they up to date or stale? Do they contain titles unique to the store/area? Are they clean looking (note: something can be shopped, but still clean looking)? Is the overall composition pleasing to the eye (something I’m oddly OCD about)?
3. How s the store arranged?
4. Sections: At a glance can I tell the store’s focus? Are the sections representative of the clientele? Do any sections clearly have no one to take care of them? (e.g. Are they a lot smaller than other sections despite country demand for titles? Are they flopping looking?)
5. Do they have staff recommends? How are they indicated? Am I being forced to decipher someone’s illegible handwriting?
6. Do they carry Bargain or used books?
It’s only after all of this that I begin to notice the other things like:
1. What are the booksellers up to? Was I acknowledged when I walked by? (Note: I’m saying acknowledged, eye contact and a smile will do.)
2. Magazines: do they have them? Are the necessary? Is the selection representative of the clientele?
3. What other things is this store selling?
Now the order of these lists will change slightly depending on when or how I come across different sections or events. If I’m ignored by a bookseller as I walk in who’s chosen instead to talk about non-business related things to her coworker to the point where another customer has to make a noise to get some attention to be rung up? Yeah, I’m going to take note right away. In the Elliot Bay Book Company, we made the mistake of walking in the used books side of the business and that really messed up my thought process as the collectables are all spined, in glass cabinets or up above one’s head. Had we entered through the other side, I would have immediately seen all the display shelves with their recommendations cards, and my first impression would have been completely different.
Since I realize that I’m not the best person to talk about bookstore first impression with (as I enter them still thinking like a retailer and not necessarily a customer), I made my friends go along on my Seattle book adventures (partially because I wanted to hear their thoughts and partially because there was no way I would have been able to get around the city by myself). After our bookstore visits I would ask their opinions on what they did like, didn’t like, and what struck them about their experience. Our surprising consensus after visiting
At maybe a quarter of the size of
The complete opposite of the idea many stores embrace to create a destination experience.
The stock did not feel limiting however. The sub-genres ran the gambit of historical to paranormal and the publishers from large down to self-published. My beloved SoHo Crime imprint was everywhere (their books, with the similar layout for all the covers, look so good when placed face up together. Again, it’s the OCD), but so where many other publishers that I always wanted to order in. The display tables mixed their presentation by placing hard covers, paperbacks and trades all together in a pleasing way that drew the eye. Staff Picks stickers helped differentiate the titles without forcing me to decipher handwriting, and white strips of paper folded around the outside of the book indicated when the author had been in (or would be) to sign that particular title.
Seattle Mystery took a very small space and maximized its potential. They let the book covers and displays speak for themselves with just enough signage to indicate the breakout (Northwest Authors, Culinary Mysteries, Small Publishers of Note, etc). The overall presentation was a store that embraced what it was—a mystery bookstore—and didn’t feel the need to improve upon the product, because it was that product that you came for.
Despite the fact that my friends and I are not mystery buffs (occasional mystery readers, yes, but its not something we seek out), we all left the store after purchasing at least one book. For my Seattle friend, the Mystery bookstore became a store she would return to when she was looking for a good read despite the fact she has no need to go down to Pioneer Square, and my other friend and I agreed that we would both return the next time we were in Seattle.
Does that make it a destination bookstore? I think so.
What do you look for/at when you enter a bookstore? What makes a bookstore a destination for you?