New chapter possible for bookstores?

Tim Krohn, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.
·2 min read

Apr. 25—Midway Books in St. Paul is often listed as the state's biggest bookstore with more than 100,000 titles of used books.

There's a used bookstore next to the Brainerd International Raceway that may take issue with that claim.

Emily's Used Books, a favorite stop while we're at the cabin, doesn't at first glance seem it could live up to its sign touting "Over 100,000 books."

The front of the building, tucked back among other buildings, is a small, narrow, low-slung affair. But it's what's behind that is a delight for the bibliophile — room after room after room of bookshelves. It's everything a used bookstore should be, tall shelves packed top to bottom, creaky wood floors and it's amazingly categorized.

There's not just a section labeled "Military," but a military section with dozens of subsections — WW II, Famous Generals, Napoleonic Wars, Military Strategy and on and on. Some stores list a "Religion" section; Emily's has subsections on Christian Marriage, Far East, Hinduism, Atheism and more.

Used bookstores appear to be holding their own in the digital world, even making a comeback and seeing growing sales. It's good news for those of us who still like holding a print edition in our hands and would rather not aid Amazon any more than we already do.

Amazon sells about 55% of all books sold in the country and continues to cripple big book chains.

I'm still holding out hope for Barnes & Noble. Who would have thought the chain that was once hated for killing off small bookstores is now the underdog we root for?

B&N hasn't helped themselves in recent years, with a string of poor CEOs who neglected their online presence and shifted to selling a bunch of toys and games rather than books. But B&N got bought a couple of years ago by a hedge fund and British bookseller who many analysts believe are pouring in the money and marketing skill to keep the book chain a going concern.

There's encouraging news that smaller neighborhood bookstores are also seeing sales growth and a bit of a resurgence as more readers seek an antidote to online. I suppose it's too much to hope the Readmore Bookstore will return to downtown Mankato, but it's a hopeful sign that some independents are making a go of it.

It always seemed that a good niche would be a brewery/bookstore or winery/bookstore combo business. Perusing the book aisles with a glass of pinot or a lager seems a natural fit. And what better way to spur some impulse buys than plying the customers with drinks?

Tim Krohn can be contacted at tkrohn@mankatofreepress.com or 507-344-6383.