What it means for independent bookstores when Amazon moves into town

CHICAGO -- Amazon is no stranger to online shoppers.  Their book business, one survey says, represents 41% of all book sales leaving independent brick and mortars scrambling for what's left.

The news of a new Amazon bookstore coming to Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood is creating some waves.

Independent bookstores are worried Amazon is now trying to beat them at their own game by putting up a store, not on Michigan Ave, but in a Chicago neighborhood. Something an independent store might do.

The Amazon store has a Southport address and will be built in what used to be the Mystic Celt.

So about 15 or so bookstores are banding together to remind readers that if they don't support their local bookstores, those stores may not be around for long.

The owners’ mantra is eat, sleep, read local.

Amazon’s move is infuriating local bookstore owners like Sarah Hollenbeck and Lynne Mooney in Andersonville. Their store, Women and Children First,  has been in business for 36 years.

“They (Amazon) never went into the bookselling business because of a love of books or ideas,” says Mooney.  “It was always about the money for them."

Mooney is in favor of making money, she claims. In fact her store has been in the black since they took it over two years ago.

“We shared that (profits) in bonuses with the staff,” she says.  “We reinvested in our business. We bought computers, did other things."

And that's the difference. Amazon, she claims, takes a different approach ignoring local contributions booksellers like Women and Children First or Unabridged on North Broadway are making.

A study by research firm Civic Economics shows Amazon sold $44 billion dollars worth of merchandise in 2014 but avoided over $600 million in state and local taxes.

It also says that $600 million equals 31,000 retail storefronts in the U.S. that never opened.  Over 100 million square feet of commercial space was never built, which could have paid over $400 million in property taxes.

In Illinois alone, $1.8 billion in goods were sold that same year. If that same merchandise had been sold locally, $23.6 million could have been collected in property taxes by the state. According to this same report, almost $60 million in revenue was never realized by state and local governments.

Amazon started paying taxes in Illinois just this year.

Mooney says these numbers prove Amazon's low prices and convenience come at a cost.

In cities like San Diego and Seattle, the stores are already up and are potentially putting the squeeze on the little bookstore next door already.

But loyal indie bookstore customers who crave the discussion groups, workshops and events, the personal touch sellers like Mooney offer, refuse to allow Amazon to write the final chapter on this one.

"I want folks in the community to think about the future,” Mooney says. “ And the streets in the neighborhoods that  they want to hand down to their children. What do those look like?"

 

So far, these are the Chicago-area bookstores that have come out in support of the read local movement Mooney outlined:

  • 57th Street Books, 1301 E. 57th St., Chicago
  • Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, Inc., 824 W. Superior St., Ste. 100, Chicago
  • Anderson’s Book Shop, Naperville, Downers Grove, and La Grange
  • The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago
  • The Book Stall at Chestnut Court, 811 Elm St., Winnetka
  • The Book Table, 1045 Lake Street, Oak Park
  • Bookends & Beginnings, 1712 Sherman Ave., Rear 1, Evanston
  • City Lit Books, 2523 N. Kedzie Blvd., Chicago
  • Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association, 2113 Roosevelt, Ypsilanti, MI
  • Lake Forest Bookstore, 662 N. Western Ave.,
Lake Forest
  • RoscoeBooks, 2142 W. Roscoe St., Chicago
  • Sandmeyer's Bookstore, 714 S. Dearborn St., Chicago
  • Seminary Co-Op Bookstore, 5751 S. Woodlawn Ave., Chicago
  • Unabridged Books, 3251 N. Broadway, Chicago
  • Volumes Bookcafe, 1474 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago
  • Wicker Park Secret Agent Supply Co. / 826CHI, 1276 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago
  • Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark St., Chicago