When online retailers such as Amazon came to the forefront to compete with brick-and-mortar stores, many people predicted the end of the traditional independent bookseller.
However, recent history has shown that independent bookstores are not only still around, many are thriving.
One example is The Learned Owl bookstore in Hudson, whose owner is taking on the management of a second location.
That's also good news for customers who frequent The Book Shelf on East Aurora Road in Northfield Center. The longtime bookstore has been purchased by Learned Owl owner Kate Schlademan and Hudson resident Wes Hilton, who have renamed it The Thrifty Owl and plan to focus primarily on selling used books. They recently bought the shop from Patti Shirkman, who is retiring.
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A move to acquire a second bookstore may seem unusual, given the competition from online retailers. However, although the number of bookstores in general has been on the decline, the number of independent establishments has actually increased during the past several years.
In 2019 there were 6,045 brick-and-mortar bookstores in the U.S., roughly half of the number of 1998, when there were 12,151, according to U.S. census figures. But the number of independent bookstores has grown from 1,651 in 2009 to 2,470 in 2018, according to a 2020 paper funded in part through Harvard Business School. That's an increase of 49%.
That is not a surprise to either Shirkman or Schlademan.
"People love to come in," Shirkman said. "We can recommend books to them, we offer a personal touch. We get to know our customers and what they like. You get to know people."
"That's the fun part," Schlademan added. "Bookstore numbers are continuously growing. It's a great trend to watch. We are going in the right direction."
History of The Book Shelf
Shirkman, who lives in Macedonia, said The Book Shelf started out as The Book Rack in the early 1990s, moving from Southgate shopping center in Maple Heights. She had been an employee at The Book Rack, which was a franchise, when owner Rick Brewer decided to retire. Shirkman became the new owner in 2006 and changed the name to The Book Shelf, severing ties from the chain store so she could work more closely with schools to provide books on classroom reading lists.
Today, the store has a bit of something for everyone. Books are neatly stacked from floor to near the ceiling, and organized by genre and author. A fan of true crime? Paranormal fiction? Amish fiction? Children's and Young Adult books? These and more can be found. The Book Shelf also sells items such as small baskets, bookends, puzzles and other items. But the lion's share of the inventory is used books.
Bookworms can trade in their books for in-store credit, a practice that will continue with The Thrifty Owl, Schlademan said.
Shirkman, who had worked as a school librarian at Ledgeview Elementary School in Nordonia Hills City Schools, said she looked forward to seeing more of her family in retirement, but would still pop in to help out at the store when needed.
Running The Book Shelf had been a family affair for a number of years, Shirkman said.
"My father-in-law had worked here part time," she said, adding that he had been a principal at Rushwood Elementary School. "My husband worked here, too."
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Schlademan, who worked at The Learned Owl before she bought it from Liz Murphy in 2013, said she had been thinking of starting a bookstore in another location for some time.
"I've had this in the back of my mind," Schlademan said. "My customers were asking for us to open in another location. But it was a daunting prospect, to find a place, then get inventory and then set up."
The opportunity to own The Book Shelf was a win-win, Shirkman said. She said she had put out notices that she wanted to retire but had difficulty attracting a new owner.
"I had struggled to find a buyer," she said. "I was so happy when (Schlademan) called. People tell me all the time they are happy that we are staying open."
Shirkman said that when The Learned Owl had come up for sale years ago, she and her husband had made inquiries.
"Me and my husband tried to buy The Learned Owl," Shirkman said. "But we were told that we needed to be in Hudson."
Grand opening tentatively planned, more events and store hours on Thursdays in the works
The Thrifty Owl has tentative plans for a grand opening from 4 to 6 p.m. Oct. 29.
It's open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Schlademan said she hopes to open the store on Thursdays as well before the holidays.
The website is thriftyowl.com, and in the future the store hopes to conduct online sales as well as host events like author signings and perhaps a book club.
Reporter April Helms can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Thrifty Owl
Where: 152 E. Aurora Road, Northfield Center
Contact: Call 330-468-3736 or go to thriftyowl.com
The Learned Owl
Where: 204 N. Main St., Hudson
Contact: Call 330-653-2252 or go to learnedowl.com
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: The Book Shelf in Northfield Center bought by The Learned Owl owner