You bought a book store? Are you crazy?
Probably not, which is good news for friends and acquaintances of Shannon Burgess and Gail Dickson. On Jan. 1, the two became co-owners of Glen Ellyn's venerable The Bookstore of Glen Ellyn, purchasing what had been Just the Bookstore from longtime owner (and employee before that) Jane Stroh.
For those who like to buy books at a local store rather than Amazon or Barnes & Noble, which may be the only remaining big box book store, all is well. An hourlong conversation New Year's week with Dickson and Burgess indicates that, except for a name tweak and an updated website (www.bookstoreofge.com), the comfortable, customer-friendly atmosphere that has been part of the bookstore for nearly 60 years -- and which flourished under Stroh's leadership -- hasn't changed.
There will be change -- perhaps shelving that better displays books, a broader range of fiction titles, a little more room for book club meetings and story hours -- but it will come incrementally. The new owners like the store as much as customers do.
Burgess and Dickson, whose now college-age daughters once worked at the store, are serious believers that a store such as The Bookstore of Glen Ellyn should be part of the community fabric.
"We need (books and ideas) to be accessible, so society ultimately has a free exchange of ideas," Dickson says. "We need to get kids excited about reading. It's important for families to come in (and shop together for books)."
The duo may benefit from what industry observers tend to believe is a swing toward local shopping. "People (are beginning to) value the ability to get away from the screen and talk with other people," Burgess says. "And they understand there's a value to shopping locally."
The purchase took nearly two years, beginning with several Dickson-Burgess conversations about their shared vision of the future; a letter sent to Stroh saying, essentially, "If you decide to retire, we'd like to talk with you;" and a response that Stroh laughingly acknowledged during a later interview was "20 reasons not to buy a book store."
Stroh was serious. "Owning a retail business is a different world," she says. "It's very intensive, a lot of time for very little financial reward.
Ultimately, however, "Gail and Shannon worked with me (in the store) most of last year to learn the business."
A November article published in the Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge and based on an extended research abstract by Ryan Raffaelli, an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard, noted that after "Amazon.com burst onto the nascent retail scene in 1995 ... the number of independent book stores in the U.S. plummeted 43 percent" between '95 and 2000.
" ... But then a funny thing happened ... Indie bookstores staged an unexpected comeback. Between 2009 and 2015, the American Booksellers Association reported a 35 percent growth in the number of independent booksellers, from 1,651 stores to 2,227."
Hmm. Maybe not so crazy after all.
• © 2018 Kendall Communications Inc. Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter. Write him at Jim@kendallcom.com. Read Jim's Business Owners' Blog at www.kendallcom.com.