Over the past 70 years, Dolphin Bookshop in Port Washington has withstood dramatic changes in the industry — from the steady rise of e-books and Amazon to the closure of big box booksellers such as Borders — and still stands as one of the oldest independent bookstores on Long Island.
Dating to 1946, the store also has cycled through three locations, four owners and several expansions as it tries to evolve with the times.
Judith Mitzner, who has owned the shop for three years, said running a small bookstore is challenging, with slim profit margins and a sluggish retail environment in which people increasingly shop online instead of at brick-and-mortar stores. But the Dolphin remains a neighborhood “gem,” she said, because people still love having a bookstore in town.
“There are plenty of people who appreciate the value of a small bookstore,” said Mitzner, 52, of Sea Cliff. “There are people who come in for recommendations, to share their experiences. You can’t do that on Amazon.”
The store, its customers and public officials on Sunday celebrated its anniversary with cake and singing the “Happy Birthday” song.
Originally a small bookstore near the train station, the Dolphin moved to Port Washington Boulevard where it operated for decades, and six years ago relocated to its current 6,000-square-foot space at 299 Main St.
As the role of bookshops has shifted through the years, the store has changed too, Mitzner said, adding it’s no longer enough to just sell books. The store, which once exclusively sold books, now also sells gifts and toys, and houses a small coffee shop in an effort to capture a broader audience, Mitzner said.
The threat of e-books, once touted by many as a harbinger of the end of print books, seems to have crested, Mitzner said. A recent Pew survey reported print books are still the most popular with U.S. readers, although people are increasingly reading on tablets and phones.
People miss books and the feel and heft of the printed page, Mitzner said.
Amazon, not e-books themselves, poses the biggest threat to the future of bookshops such as the Dolphin, she said. The online retailer’s size means it can afford to lose money by undercutting traditional booksellers and experimenting with new sales ventures. In February, Amazon announced it would open up to 400 brick-and-mortar bookstores across the country.
But with the closure of Borders in 2011 and the diminishing presence of Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores are faring relatively well, according to the American Booksellers Association, which said the number of member bookstores increased 27 percent from 2009 to 2015.
Officials at Sunday’s celebration included North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth, Assemb. Michelle Schimel and town clerk Wayne Wink. Bosworth presented Mitzner with a proclamation commemorating the event, saying that the Dolphin’s continued success was a testament to its ability to transform itself over the years.
Mitzner said that while the Dolphin’s future is unclear, the “treasure hunt” of discovering a new book on shop shelves keeps the community coming back.