LARCHMONT, N.Y. ‒ Independent bookstores in Larchmont continue to thrive by catering to the local community, even as large book chains suffer. Despite the growing popularity of first the Kindle and now other e-readers, Anderson's Book Shop and The Voracious Reader still have many loyal customers.
"A local bookshop is the heart of a small community; it’s a gathering place," said Annabelle Siegel, the manager at Anderson's who has been working there for over 30 years. "Children who I knew decades ago now bring their children in. It’s a really wonderful addition to a community."
Anderson's opened in 1946 and was once one of the largest bookstores in Westchester.
"On Saturdays, you could not get into the store because of how crowded it was ‒ it was enormously popular," Siegel said.
Then, the opening of a nearby Barnes & Nobles and Borders in the past 15 to 20 years drew away customers who were not from very close by, but things stabilized. The advent of e-readers, however, has effected business significantly.
"Kindle really made a difference," Siegel said. "We lost customers who live in Larchmont who were buying two or three books a week. A lot of them went to Kindle. That you can’t compensate for."
Print book sales nationwide have dropped 22 percent over the past five years, according to Nielsen BookScan, as the trend toward e-books and other digital devices grew. Barnes & Noble reported recently that it may close one-third of its stores in the next decade.
But Anderson's, with its ability to cater to Larchmont on a more personal level, remains strong. Siegel said there are die-hard print people, but more than that, there is a lot of support for the shop from the community.
"People come in and say, 'Thank god you’re here,' ” she said. "They tell us: ‘We want you to stay in business.' "
Knowing customers socially and personally is really the key. And an overall Larchmont spirit ‒ ephemera like old maps and authentic New Yorker covers collected and framed by a local couple ‒ adds to the charm.
The Voracious Reader, a children's bookshop just blocks away, cultivates an intimate feel as well, but in a younger way. Owner Francine Lucidon opened the store, which has a little tea shop attached, in 2006.
"The people I serve are my neighbors," she said. "Kids come in and want recommendations, and it's wonderful when you show them a book you know they'll like and their face lights up."
She explained how local shops are carefully curated and pointed out one book of colorful photography that would be hard to find elsewhere. "Kiki & Coco Go To Paris" features pictures of a little girl and her doll in France.
“This has Larchmont written all over it ‒ it’s just made of pretty,” she said. "An indie bookstore is bound to its unique community."
Lucidon also tries hard to create book culture. She has author events like the recent one with Julie Andrews, book-themed birthday parties and t-shirts with book covers. At large book chains, she said, the other products aside from actual books are toys and electronics.
"The news that such chains are suffering never feels good to hear," Lucidon said. "As a brick and mortar store, I feel a closer kinship with a place like Barnes & Noble."
It's still not surprising to her though: "I think the whole big-box thing is really just not sustainable anymore for books. For a huge selection, you can’t get any more huge than online. And then there’s the opposite of that, which is books handpicked with specific communities and individuals in mind. A a big-box store can’t do either."
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