A brief interlude from the book reviews–here’s a short post on bookstores. Books to return this weekend.

I just returned from two trips, one to Denver and one to Richmond, Va.   In each trip, I had the good fortune to visit some great independent bookstores.  In Richmond, I spent a while browsing at Black Swan Books and in Denver, I went to one of my all time favorite bookstores in the U.S.– Tattered Cover.  I also stopped in to Trident and Boulder Bookstore.

I have a minor condition that forces me to stop in and often buy something from independent booksellers across the U.S.  I’ve dropped too much money at Powell’s in Portland (book a day for a visit) and at Green Apple Books in San Francisco (where I stumbled upon a Dave Eggers booksigning).   While most cities have an independent bookstore of some kind, there are certain ones that really suck me in.

Here’s what I think is most critical in a bookstore–

  1. The smell.  Hard to describe, but a real independent bookstore has a great smell.  Not quite musty.  Kind of like new car, only with books.
  2. Wood floors.  Creaky is preferable.  Not so creaky that you are nervous about falling through, but the floors should have an appropriate give and tone to the creek.
  3. Displays.  This is crucial.  A good bookseller knows how to create a display that triggers memories of previously read books, that highlights interesting and relevant books, and that also sells books.
  4. Recommendations from employees.  Staff is important.  Independent bookstores sometimes hire stuffy employees, more concerned about a conversation with a co-worker about how they don’t think this author or that deserves any attention.  Hire the right staff, and let them make visible recommendations about what they like and why they like it.
  5. Lighting.  Bright enough to see, dark enough to be intimate.
  6. Wine.  Coffee.  Why not?   Let people roam with their drinks.  Encourage conversation too.
  7. Finally, most importantly, a great book selection.  This is tough.  A bookseller has a tough job picking what might sell enough to keep the doors open.  But the really good ones also stock their shelves with the gems that might not show up in the newsletters or the New York Times Book Review.  It’s the Costco treasure hunt theory.  Browse long enough and you find something great that you won’t see anywhere else.

If someone dropped a pile of money in my lap, I think I’d like to try my hand at owning a small bookstore.  I think that a little store near Fountain Square or in the Quarter or along our new streetcar route could be successful.  It would never be Joseph Beth (which is fantastic but on its way to becoming a chain).   I think there would be an appetite for a little store with a coffee or wine bar and a nice, comfortable browsing section.  I know that people are reading online and that the ipad and Kindle are preferred tools for many.  But I think there is still a market for a bookstore.  (I also think the folks at Ohio Bookstore do a great job.)  My store would be less used books and more current.  I’d like it to be similar to City Cellars but just for books.  A small community hub.  Maybe I’ll play the lotto tonight.

So tell me, any bookstores (anywhere) that you love?  Why?  Do you think downtown Cincinnati could support a small bookstore?