Published on: December 12, 2011by Kevin Coupe
More than 500 people lined up at the local, independent bookstore in the Republican-dominated community where I live last Friday when it was announced that former President Bill Clinton would be there for a couple of hours to sign copies of his new book, “Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy.”
You had to go to the store the day before to pay for one of the limited number of vouchers that were available, which was the cost of the book, which then got you into the bookstore on Friday afternoon, where President Clinton was shaking hands and signing books. But plenty of people did it, and showed up at Barrett Bookstore along with local police, media and Secret Service agents. And I was among them.
I was chatting with a friend of mine who was working there on Friday, and asked how they managed to get Clinton to go there, as opposed to one of the two much larger Barnes & Noble stores that are a few miles in either direction. And he grinned, “He called us,” he said. “Or rather, his people called us. All we had to do was say yes.”
It took me about a hour to work my way through the Disneyland-like line to get to where Clinton - casually dressed in slacks and a v-neck sweater and wearing an enormous smile as he spent a few moments with each customer - told the woman in front of me that he was trying to do independent bookstores whenever possible, that the nearby town where he lives - Chappaqua, New York - recently lost its independent bookstore when it closed because of competition from chains, online booksellers and e-books.
Clinton told the local Darien Times, "Selling books is very different from what it used to be. I'm trying to help the independent bookstores... I think for a community having a bookstore like this really adds a lot to the quality of life." And the Times notes that Clinton “also made it a point to purchase at least one item from each of the stores he visited during his tour.”
The Clinton visit generated a lot of sales for Barrett Bookstore - at least $13,750, calculated at 550 books for about $25 apiece. It probably was as good a day as the store could have had, and it pointed to the continuing challenge that independents face - they have to offer things that the competition cannot because they are undersold by almost everybody else. It can’t always be a former president who seems to have a pretty good idea about the retail battles being fought on Main Streets all over the country.
(For the record ... I had no intention of buying the Clinton book, though if I had decided to get it, I almost certainly would have gotten it on Kindle. But the Clinton appearance affected my behavior.)
Independents - and virtually every kind of retailer - can’t stop thinking about tomorrow, and how they are going to compete in an effective, compelling and sustainable way. They have to keep their Eyes Open.
- KC's View: