Bookstores struggle to hook buyers

The holidays are an important time for all retail businesses, but for used bookstores — already facing a swift economic downturn fueled by the recession, competition from the Internet and digital reading devices — it’s a vital time to generate additional revenues to compensate for a slow year.

“The summertime is so slow,” said Christine Bell, who co-owns two combined bookstores on Brand Boulevard — Mystery & Imagination and Bookfellows — with her husband.

With the uncertainty of the presidential election now over, Bell said she hopes book lovers will be more inclined to visit her stores.

“When people are scared, they order on the [Internet]. When they’re more confident, they go out,” she said.

Jerome Joseph, who owns Brand Bookshop across the street, said holiday sales make up about 10% of his annual revenues, and for this holiday season, he’s offering 25% off all books and no sales tax until the two days before Christmas in an effort to boost sales.

Both store owners said times are tough, but they love the book business.

“You have to love it,” Bell said. “If your heart isn’t in it, you probably shouldn’t do it.”

Joseph, who opened his store in 1985, has calculated that he needs to make $500 a day to break even, an amount he doesn’t always reach.

When he noticed sales were falling dramatically last year, Joseph worked with his landlord to lower his rent, and he has since cut his hours of operation.

The Bells, who opened their business in 1976, once had their stores in separate storefronts side-by-side on Broadway until about 14 years ago.

They moved to the combined space on Brand and pay more rent for the premium location. However, they don’t want to move again.

“It’s expensive to move,” Christine Bell said.

Both store owners said they try to entice customers with promotions.

Joseph holds small sales throughout the year — some are successful, some not so much.

At age 84, he said he has no plans to retire.

“A lot of people, if they retire and don’t do anything, they don’t last long,” said Joseph, who runs the shop with his adopted son, Noriaki Nakano. “It keeps your mind active.”

Christine Bell said she and her husband plan to stay in business because they provide something to customers that they’re not going to find on the Internet.

“People come here to thrill somebody with something unusual,” she said.

She also said she recognizes that it’s the support of their loyal customers that keeps their doors open.

“If not for that, we wouldn’t be here,” she said. “We’re survivors.”

Charles Fredeen contributed to this report.

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