For many years, the prevailing narrative of independent bookstores was a tragedy, one where mighty big-box stores stomped out plucky, small-time shop owners.
Now, the national trend seems to suggest that the little guy has a chance, and Charline Spektor is hoping her recently opened BookHampton location in Mattituck will provide an exciting new chapter for her business.
Twelve years ago, Spektor and her husband, Jeremy Nussbaum, bought the BookHampton chain of stores when the original owners retired. At the time, BookHampton had two shops, in East Hampton and Southampton. The couple opened a Sag Harbor location a couple of years later.
Then they opened a spot in Amagansett, and the plot took a turn: After two years, the location closed in 2010. The Amagansett shop proved to be too close to East Hampton to justify another location; the "community of readers" didn't need another bookstore, Spektor says.
Big-chain closures leave gap
So when Spektor and Nussbaum opened another shop, they knew they had to pick the right location. The North Fork seemed a likely spot, in large part because the closing of a Borders in Riverhead in 2011 left a large stretch of Long Island underserved.
Indeed, Borders' closings have contributed to the stabilization of mom-and-pop bookshops, according to Oren Teicher, chief executive of the American Booksellers Association, the national trade association for independent bookstores.
According to Teicher, 2011 marked the first time since the late 1990s that his organization has grown in membership, to 1,512 from 1,410 in 2010. (Teicher says the ABA's members operate about 2,000 actual stores.) For ABA members, Teicher says, sales for the 2011 holiday season rose 15.7 percent compared to 2010 sales.
In April, BookHampton opened its Mattituck location in the Love Lane shopping district. Spektor says she had identified a specific storefront years ago but had to wait for the space to open up.
"You need affordable rent. You need to be some place where people can walk by . . . and drop in and get a book," she says. "You have to be in a community where people are reading -- where people want to read and don't have a bookstore."
It's not just the big boxes' demise that helped smaller shops regain traction, Teicher says. Also fueling the trend is that technology is much more accessible, both for external functions, like store websites, and internal functions, like inventory and payroll.
But perhaps the trend that BookHampton is most able to capitalize on is the growing cachet of localism, Teicher says: "The recognition that supporting and shopping at locally owned businesses matters . . . [has] made a real, real difference in how stores are competing.
"The book you're selling is identical to the book you're getting somewhere else. You don't get a better ending if you buy it from us," Teicher continues. But local shops can differentiate themselves by "being intricately engaged with community and customers."
"For all the quantitative leaps in technology," he says, "there's still nothing like a place where people come together and talk about books."
That's what Spektor has in mind.
At the Mattituck location the staff has launched several community-based efforts that they hope will distinguish the store as a place where "our booksellers really know books," Spektor says.
In addition to the book groups and author events that all BookHampton stores host, the Mattituck location also has started a "We Grow Great Readers" program, where kids who come into the store can be measured against the store's center column, and a book log where kids can list all the books they've read and make wish lists of what they'd like to read. So far, 13 children have written down their preferences, says Amy Katz, manager of the Mattituck store.
"We don't have a bookstore since [Borders] in Riverhead closed," said Susan Moors of Jamesport, who was visiting for the first time. "I'm just happy there's one on the North Fork. It's a nice addition. It's charming."
Owners. Charline Spektor and Jeremy Nussbaum
Revenue. Less than $5 million