Roanoke indie bookstore eyes survival as e-books reshape reading

Posted Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Larry and Angie Granados took a one-week class from the American Booksellers Association on how to run a bookstore before they opened their shop a few blocks down from the Babe’s Chicken Dinner House in 2008.

These days, they’ve got a few things they could teach anybody interested in the same thing.

“This was a leap of faith,” Larry Granados, 61, says.

The Book Carriage & Coffee Shop, at 304 N. Oak St. in downtown Roanoke, is a mix of everything the couple — both retired oil and gas accountants — say they love: books, coffee and community.

It’s also a rarity these days — an independent bookstore. In fact, it’s one of the only general interest new book retailers left in North Texas.

The rise of and e-books have radically changed the landscape for booksellers big and small. In North Texas, several Borders Books & Music stores shut down in 2011 when that company went out of business. Barnes & Noble recently announced plans to close Fort Worth stores in Sundance Square and the University Park shopping center.

North of Dallas, the posh, 24,000-square-foot Legacy Books in Plano’s Shops at Legacy North closed in August 2010 when investors pulled the plug after two years. Undeterred, its manager Teri Tanner, a former Borders executive, opened A Real Bookstore later that year in a 20,000-square-foot space in the Village at Fairview. But it suffered a similar fate and closed in April.

Still, the American Booksellers Association is upbeat on the prospects for independent retailers, noting that more shops are now opening than closing despite the growing proliferation of electronic books, which are read on tablets and e-readers. E-books have grown 45 percent since 2011, and now constitute 20 percent of the mainstream or “trade” book market, according to an industry survey.

“I know there is doom and gloom about the longstanding viability of bricks-and-mortar stores,” Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Bookseller Association, told an industry conference in February. “But the good news is that we are in fact seeing a renaissance of independent booksellers in the U.S.”

Larry Granados said his decision to go into book selling stemmed from a goal he had set years before.

“I had committed to being out of the workforce at 55 no matter what,” he says. “When I hit 55, I said bye.”

Angie Granados, 59, followed her husband into retirement a short time later. The idea for the bookstore came out of trying to figure out what to do with several hundred used titles crammed into their Roanoke home.

Originally, their idea was to buy an old building in downtown Roanoke and convert and expand it to a used bookstore. But the city told the couple that renovations would cost more than 50 percent of the tax-appraised value, triggering a requirement in Roanoke that meant the couple would have to raze and rebuild, Larry Granados said.

So the couple turned their concept into new books. They built new, adding a coffee shop and flexibility to turn the whole 3,000-square-foot store into space for a meeting or a wedding (even the stylish wooden bookshelves are on wheels).

The Granadoses are carrying a mortgage on the property, but Larry Granados said they largely funded construction with cash.

But they’ve been forced to adjust their business model. When the couple opened the store, 95 percent of the business came from selling books, Larry Granados estimates. Today, that’s down to 60 to 70 percent.

Gone are New York Times bestsellers, which are heavily discounted at Barnes & Noble and on and weren’t moving. Expanded are children’s, young reader and young adult lines that are popular with walk-in customers, and Texana books requested by tourists and residents.

Besides books, the store carries gifts, many tied to fund-raising efforts of relief organizations.

Earlier this year, the Granados leased out the coffee shop operation. They’ve also leased an upstairs classroom to an organization for dyslexia, generating full-time income from that space. The store offers live music on Saturday nights.

And off-site, the store handles book sales at authors’ speaking events, such as a recent visit to Keller by novelist and former O.J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark. It also sells books at conferences. It has even taken over the operation of book fairs at some schools from a popular national firm.

“It takes a while to balance everything,” Angie Granados says.

Dan Cullen, an ABA spokesperson, says savvy independents are taking advantage of growing interest in consumer “localism” and the void left in many communities by the collapse of Borders and problems at Barnes & Noble.

The trade group said a survey of 500 ABA-affiliated stores showed sales were up 8 percent last year, and that the number of member stores has increased for the past three years.

Others have a less rosy view, and provide less optimistic figures.

BookStats, a reporting venture of the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group, said sales to independent retailers maintained their share of national sales in 2012, but declined 2.8 percent in dollars — to $478.6 million from $492.4 million the year before. That compares to $663 million in 2008, a 28 percent drop in four years.

In Fort Worth, three siblings decided to go the niche route, opening The Dock bookshop at 6637 Meadowbrook Dr. to specialize in African-American literature. “I think that’s our advantage because we are little more focused,” says co-owner Donna Craddock.

Opening in 2008, when the economy tanked, the past five years have been a challenge, concedes Craddock, who like her partners, sister Donya Craddock and brother Dominique Johnson, have kept their full-time jobs. Eventually, they hope sales will reach the point where they can hire employees.

Like other independents, they sponsor events and regular courses are offered. These include a creative writing workshop taught by Tarrant County College instructor Shewanda Riley and pancake breakfast at no charge. The next workshop is Nov. 8, from 10:30 a.m. to noon.

Summer presented a sales slump, but Donna Craddock said sales are reviving and she remains hopeful. “Sales year-to-year have been about the same. We’re waiting for a breakthrough in 2014.”

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Roanoke's book store

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