First Person/Andy Laties

Rebel sell

Holyoke's Andy Laties, 51, argues that now is the perfect time to open an independent bookshop (yes, really).

By Joel Brown
July 17, 2011

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With Borders bankrupt and many chains already gone, do you really think it’s wise to open a bookstore, as you write in your newly revised book, Rebel Bookseller?

There’s room for people who want to work in a storefront bookstore, make a living at it, and not demand so much capital as a return on investment.

That may be true for some shops, like the one you run at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, which has a built-in customer base. But what about longtime independents, like the Curious George & Friends bookstore and the Globe Corner Bookstores in Cambridge, which have recently closed their shops? Are they doing something wrong?

It’s possible what used to be a good place for a store is not anymore. Demographics change, property values change. That happens all the time. The total number of [indie] stores [nationwide] is staying constant.

Then why should we care if some go under?

Independent bookstores are about quirky books, authors who usually cannot get their voices heard. Independent bookstores give a platform to everybody.

So do online sellers. What is the unique value of an indie?

In a bookstore, [people] come together to hear an author giving a talk or an open-mike poetry reading. Citizenship in America is damaged by isolation.

What about the rise of e-books? Isn’t that leading to these storefronts’ demise, too?

E-books present no threat. They will be a supplement to print books.

You’re a big proponent of the “buy local” movement. Why?

Profits from [chain] companies get sent out of state, so there’s less money flowing in the community. As an indie, I’m standing there with you. Will customers pay more to shop at local stores? Yes, if we demonstrably add value. Somebody with roots in that town knows the character, the history, and will produce decisions fitted to the people who live there.

Still, opening a bookstore in 2011 is not rational, is it?

If you are headed into a landscape of low-paid jobs or unpaid internships, why not open a bookstore? You have to be crazy, but in a good way.

(Photograph by Ion Sokhos)
  • July 17, 2011 cover
  • July 17, 2011 cover
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