want to underestimate this, but there’s always just a combination of what you know and what you think will happen,” Sontz
says. “It’s part data analysis and part putting your finger out in
the breeze and seeing which way it’s blowing.” She believes that
this unquantifiable element is one of the key reasons why indies
have remained vital in the industry.
Powell’s also got a head start selling online, starting early in
1993. Sometimes seen by consumers as an alternative to
Amazon, Powell’s is “the online version of shop local,” Sontz
says. “More and more people are thinking about how they spend
their dollars.” However, Sontz adds that online sales for Powell’s
have been pretty stagnant over the last five years.
“I feel like I’m living in heaven,” Sontz says regarding the
Pacific Northwest. “It’s a cornucopia. It’s so bountiful and it’s
just getting better and better.”
Portland is also home to many smaller indies, including two
children’s specialty stores: A Children’s Place Bookstore and
Green Bean Books. Located in the Alberta Arts District, Green
Bean Books opened in 2009. “We opened in the middle of the
recession,” owner Jennifer Green says, “and everyone said don’t
do it.” Yet she reports that since opening the store has seen
consistent sales growth.
Portland ranks second to last among America’s most popu-
lous cities in households with children, but Green’s neighbor-
hood has seen an influx of “younger couples moving in and
having kids,” Green says. “This neighborhood is chock-full of
kids five and younger.”
Despite more young people, the store has had a hard time
getting its YA section to take off. Green says that it’s a matter
of waiting for the kids in the neighborhood to be old enough.
The store has 15% of its mix devoted to sidelines, Green says,
including six repurposed vending machines that dispense
things such as finger puppets and mustaches, creating an interactive experience for kids.
Green holds that element—creating experience—to be her
store’s mission. “Our calendar is full of events, and we’re a community meeting place, which is great,” Green says. “We’re
trying to get people to come here every day. We’re creating not
just a bookstore, but an experience. That’s our whole goal. It’s
all about community.”
Lots of Variety in Washington
Seattle’s Third Place Books has three locations: Lake Forest
Park, Ravenna, and its newest location, Seward Park. The Lake
Forest Park store is 18 years old and has 15,000 sq. ft. of bookstore with a café, a stage, a community room, and a common
area, all located in a northern suburb of Seattle.
Managing partner Robert Sindelar says that the idea for the
Lake Forest Park bookstore was based on the concept of a “third
place.” He explains, “It’s a gathering place, not your home, not
your work, but that third place in your life. ”
This original location has a mix of new and used books and
large seating areas where groups can meet. Since the develop-