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Sunday, February 17, 2019

By Deborah M. Todd, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

PITTSBURGH — At the time Dan Iddings opened the doors of Classic Lines Bookstore in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood last year, his greatest fear was that the technologies that ate up some of his largest competitors would swallow his business whole.

“I had this fear that I would be the Amazon showroom — that people would look at our selection of products, then go buy them on Amazon,” he said.

Six months in, Iddings said he has seen his share of comparison shoppers, but they’re far outnumbered by customers seeking literary refuge following the 2009 loss of the neighborhood Barnes & Noble bookstore.

“People understand that there’s only one way to keep a bookstore in the neighborhood — that’s to buy the books,” he said.

The digitization of literature and Amazon-ification of book sales that rattled the publishing industry in the mid-2000s has settled into a moment of stability for independent bookstores primed and ready to fill voids left by the 2011 bankruptcy of Borders books and the closings of several Barnes & Noble locations in the area.

Borders — the second largest bookseller in the nation at the time of its demise — pointed to Web-based retail and a shift toward digital downloads as primary causes for its bankruptcy and subsequent liquidation of more than 400 stores. The Michigan company, which outsourced its online sales to in 2001 before suspending that deal in favor of its own website in 2008, also cited a failure to respond quickly to market changes. In October 2011, Barnes & Noble, the nation’s largest bookseller, took over Borders’ brand name and website in a $13.9 million deal.

In Pittsburgh — where the loss of Borders stores came painfully close to Barnes & Noble closures — independent bookstores that had survived years in the shadows of the giants became bastions of familiarity for bookworms seeking new haunts to call their own.

They also became windows of opportunity for bibliophiles with lifelong dreams of opening their own stores.

Iddings noted that three community bookstores had closed around the time that Barnes & Noble entered Squirrel Hill, but he pointed out that his store and used bookseller Amazing Books have popped up in the neighborhood in the last two years.

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One response to “Are Independent Booksellers Replacing Big-Box Retailers?”

  1. ralphkr says:

    Those of us in the PNW have the advantage of easy access to Powell’s in Portland. I do not know if it is the largest store in the USA but it is certainly the largest I have ever seen and consists of a series of multistory bookstores. Early this Century we went there and I bought my wife 84 books for her birthday…OK, four of them were for me including “The Thousand Mile War” that had a friend mentioned on page 78. I have also bought numerous used books from them through their Internet site and have yet to receive one that was not in like new condition.

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