Monday, February 28, 2011
Think Twice. We really are different.
Once again, I find him insightful and interesting. But....
There's something off-putting about him. A little too glib, somehow. A little too certain of himself. A little too much guru all-knowingness.
I suppose I ought to just read it and take away what I can, but....it seems too canned. (Of course, he probably has millions of readers....)
Anyway, he has an entry about the "right"size for a business:
"A local mom and pop store is just the right size for mom and for pop. The rent is low enough for the two of them to cover it. It's stable. They can't afford a $200,000 a year CFO. It wouldn't be a stable situation. This is backwards but here you go: businesses that exist exist because the marketplace allows them to function at the right size."
This is almost exactly what I've said in the past here. He goes on with some other very valid observations.
The only thing he leaves out, is that sometimes there is a proper size for a business -- in a specific community.
I speak of Bend, because that's what I know, but I suspect it's true everywhere.
What I notice most often in Bend is that people seem to build a little too big for us.
How can that be?
I think they probably do enough research to average out the size of a business for per capita. Or perhaps, they come from a town they perceive to be the same size as Bend, and decide we need the same sort of thing.
I've mentioned the problem of treating Bend Urban Area as the same as same sized Urban Area's elsewhere; the strange demographics, the lack of a four year college, the lack of an interstate, the lack of major industry and so on. But mostly, we are isolated, and we lack the proximity of other Urban Areas, or even moderately sized towns within an hour or so driving distance.
But I think it's more than that.
I was recently reading about the expansion of the Comic Book Shop stores in Spokane, Washington. Both stores are bigger than mine, one considerably bigger.
When I Google Spokane, I find that they have a 470K urban population, versus our 150K population. I couldn't tell if there were other comic shops, but let's say there is another one.
So: divide 470K by three, and it averages out to the same population as Bend, so maybe I should have a bigger shop!
Except: Shops aren't equal. One shop in a 470K area might draw 50% of the available customers; a second shop may draw another 35%; and the third shop may draw only 15%.
Whereas, 150k is 150k and no matter how good a job I do, that's all I can draw on. There is a numerical glass ceiling. (Oh, I could try to break it by drawing tourists, which I do, and by going online, which I don't.)
But there is also a town across the river from Spokane, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and if you add the two together you get 600K population. So even if you add in another shop, the draw is that much bigger if you do a good job.
I suspect there are very, very few Urban Areas in the U.S.A. that don't have similar situations. Either just down the interstate, or maybe mid-sized towns just across the river, something like that.
So if you come to Bend, and think we need a store just as big as that town you just came from that was the same population or maybe even smaller -- think twice.
Simple restaurant eating.
It has occurred to me that if Linda and I are to do much traveling, especially extended trips, especially extended trips at long distances, that we may want to eat in some fine restaurants.
Something other than takeout from fast food joints; or, occasionally, sitting in a fast food joint.
I mean, that's not fair to Linda.
Over the years, I've chipped away at my agoraphobia, so that now I rarely feel a twinge in any movie theater, or walking the streets shopping, or in most stores.
But I still feel myself tighten up and get all self-conscious when I go to a restaurant, and because I don't go to restaurants I feel awkward and unsure when it comes to ordering and paying. It's fine when I have friends or family, who take care of that, but when it's just Linda and me, I feel a little concerned.
Yesterday, we decided to eat out before going to the movies (Unknown-- when I bought my ticket, the guy asked, "Unknown?" I said, "No I know -- I want to see Unknown..." both Linda and him just looked at me strangely.) Linda wanted to go to the Flatbread in the Old Mill, but I suggested Pappa's Pizza south of of Bend. Why? Because after eating there with my Dad (he loves the place) so many times, I'm completely comfortable there.
On the way out the door, I said, "I have to get over this one of these days, so I'll go to Flatbread if you want." Linda says, no, no...
....but when we get to the pizza joint, it is loud and crowded so we back away and drive the Flatbread.
I walk in the door and immediately feel myself tense up. We are shown our table, and it is in the middle of an open floor, the worse configuration for me, and I feel myself hunching up and uncomfortable -- I look a little like James Franco at the Oscars, with a tight little smile and trying really hard to seem casual.
I can barely read the menu, so I just take a stab at the simplest and most recognizable items: Caesar's Salad, and Parmesan flatbread with three sauces.
So, here's where it gets better. I chat with Linda about writing, and I start to feel myself loosen up a bit; I look around, finally, and no one's paying any attention to us.
Then the two dudes running the floor start chatting with me, because they recognize me from Pegasus and the waiter and I talk about the Transmetropolitan comic and I tell him the other Vertigo titles were also great and what I read myself. And, suddenly, I'm comfortable.
The meal arrives, and I get busy eating.
Here's the thing. The stuff I eat at home is so bland -- that any time I eat out, it tastes absolutely wonderful. In other words, I can't give you a restaurant review because just about any restaurant will be so tasty, that I'm happy. I think this actually comes across to the waiters, who find it endearing.
In the last few months, I've eaten at Kona Mix twice (pretty casual, but still sit-down nervous); and Flatbread, and...a few other places on our trips I can't seem to remember right now.
The trick is this, and this is the way I'm going to play it. Find situations that are in my favor -- say eating on off hours (yesterday, it was 2:00) or on off days (such as a Tuesday); then eat a few times at the same place until I feel comfortable there. Then move to another restaurant, and do the same thing.
Then maybe, when that becomes routine, try some busier times, or even fancier restaurants.
All this can be set backward with a bad experience. Tightening up and feeling uncomfortable and awkward and self-conscious can lead to bad outcomes. But if I can manage to get good experiences under my belt, it will slowly improve.
I've never heard it explained this way, but to me Agoraphobia is the Body tricking the Brain. And the way to combat it, is for the Brain to trick the Body. Not by willpower --that doesn't seem to work, but by lulling it, easing into it, to calm it down so that the next situation doesn't seem so threatening.
I'm still not sure about really big events -- concerts and plays or festivals. Part of me thinks the anonymity of the crowds will make it easier for me to blend in, but part of me remembers that this is where my panic attacks first happened, so I'm a little leery of pushing it.
I mean, it's only been about 40 years -- no sense rushing it.
I've managed to create my own little world where I'm comfortable -- it's my boundaries, and I can roam within them. Over the years, I've pushed those boundaries further and further apart, until -- I can almost fool myself into thinking I'll never have another panic attack.
But feeling myself tense up in a restaurant reminds me it's still floating out there....
Sunday, February 27, 2011
The return of Buster.
I find that I agree with some of what he says, disagree with some of what he says, and have a WTF? reaction to the rest.
I can handle it, (mostly, --he's gone too far a few times--) can you?
For some reason he's chosen to drop his handle (Bilbo, Buster, or my latest tag, Sheen) and go by anonymous. Even though, once you're used to him, you can figure out it's him in the first sentence.
Back when bubble bloggers were being ignored (THERE'S a BUBBLE! WATCH OUT! The End of the World is Nigh!!!) Buster was a reliable naysayer.
Obviously, he still is.
I almost believe he's a millionaire who has cashed out and lives most of the year in Asia surrounded by nubile young maidens. Almost.
Wherever he's been, he's apparently back. Don't let him freak you out.
The stable -- get stable-er.
So I'll say, the stable get stable-er.
How many people truly pull themselves up by the bootstraps? I'm sure it happens, but it must be really rare. And even when it happens, there had to be some influential person or event that set them on the right path.
Mostly I think it's a matter of luck, and birth, and generational timing.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
So what. It's cold. But it's beautiful.
Which is weird to me. The cold isn't all that off putting to me. It wouldn't stop me from doing most things I would want to do. In fact, it's kind of bracing.
Look outside, it's beautiful! Clean white snow, blue skies, sun shining!
What the hell. You're mostly in the car, then mostly in a store. Bundle up, and go!
Had a guy in the store who volunteered to sell some of my inventory from the basement on e-bay.
So, I'm sort of willing, but first I want to discuss it. Discuss it fully.
Partly, because I want to get a sense of where his head's at -- whether he's fully aware of the ramifications.
But partly, because I think that you reach a kind of truth if you fully discuss an issue from both sides.
Now, this is just ARGUMENT (and argument is pejorative) to most people, and most people find it unpleasant. Whereas, I enjoy a good argument. I think of it like the justice system -- you get a proponent to argue each side to the best of their abilities, and out of that debate, a truth emerges.
I know that's the idealistic view -- but I'm not looking for perfect justice when I argue a point -- I really mean it when I say that I'm willing to be out-argued. If the other guy makes more sense, I hope I'm flexible enough to see it.
Anyway, he got disgusted with me, accused me of being against the idea from the beginning with all my "Yes, buts...." and "What happens ifs...."
And so I have to back down, and start conceding some points voluntarily, even arguing "his" side, if you will. He doesn't really want to think about it, much less debate it.
So few people really want to do that. And so often it descends into name calling and hurt feelings.
It's a valid technique.
We were a mill town.
"Eat your spinach and do your homework," Dad would say, "Or you'll be working on the green chain...."
Looking back, those look like good, solid jobs, with a nice paternalistic small town enterprise.
Anyway, the stinky smell coming out of Century Drive is a legacy of that past.
In fact, I've always wondered how they managed to clean up all the pollutants in the Old Mill area. I mean, from what I remember, they'd have had to scoop up inches of top soil...
I'm sure they must have passed muster.
There was also the City Dump,(County?), up Southwest of Century: I haven't quit fixed what's on that location now, but I know that I wouldn't want to be there...
Meanwhile, the city is looking to save money by personnel cost cuts. Juniper Ridge and Bat keep getting funding, if vastly reduced. But we can always lay more work on our employees! This seems like the usual too little too late in cutbacks. When you have one of these economic busts, you have to get ahead of the curve, make the cuts deeper than you think at first, instead of constantly falling behind.
Instead, the tendency is to keep thinking things will get better. To ignore the naysayers (bubble bloggers) and instead listen to the optimistic promoters -- who are way more fun to listen to.
I also noticed, in the little business blurbs that it seems like some of the bigger name real estate agents are consolidating under some of the bigger name real estate agencies.
Talk about Bend coming back all you want, but I think we're still downsizing...
Friday, February 25, 2011
Driving to work thoughts....
What is this "moderate" of which they speak?
They say 2 drinks for a guy per day.
2 drinks? It's the 3rd drink that gives me the buzz!
(errr...this is why I don't drink...)
A superficial scan of The Decemberists on Google, calls them a real, true communist band.
Funny how that word has been reduced.
Like Commies are loveable losers, somehow. Quaint.
(Yes, yes, I know that Communism was a horrible scourge, and that North Korea and China are no jokes. But I think, well, totalitarianism is a more appropriate word.)
I can remember when Communism was a fearsome word, a career ender, a serious tag to stay away from.
Anyway, it seems like socialism is a more serious charge, now.
Or....gasp!....Liberal. Say it with me, in Fox News tones ---Lib-er-al....
The street outside the store is empty.
Come on Wussies!
Put on your cute scarves and quirky hats and fur-line booties and sleek leather gloves and explore!
That goes for you girls, too!
There is too much "stuff."
I told him we don't carry "celebrity" comics, that I thought they were a gimmick, and he hung up.
Afterward, I realized that I'd probably sounded insulting. I hadn't meant to -- there are a bunch of these comics, and I've just decided to forego them because I don't think they result in actual reading, which is my focus. But....I have no aversion to selling things.
Next time, I'll just say, "No, but I can order it for you..."
Linda and I were at some friends house to play Carcassonne ( for the first time. ) Afterward, I was talking to their two adorable young girls, and mentioned an interest in their books.
They started hauling them out and telling me ALL about them.
"Wait! Wait!" I exclaimed. "Bring me a pencil and paper!" The scurried off to fill my command, and then, as I wrote titles down, they enthusiastically told me the stories.
Shar told me that she fills up a bag at the library every visit.
So when I say that kids don't read, I realize I'm probably wrong. I know that each of the books they handed me probably cost something like 20 bucks, and at the pace they were reading, library or used is probably a more viable option.
Something to remember.
I go into our competitor, The Open Book, to buy books all the time. I don't have credit, so I finally figured out that that was kind of stupid, so I loaded up a bag with about nine books from The Bookmark, and took them over.
They accepted about 3 of them for trade, even though I'd made an effort to try to pick books that weren't as common and they might want.
"We have duplicates of these," she said. "Sometimes there is just too much stuff."
"Yeah, I think Linda is finding that out, too."
So my credit came to something like 10.00, instead a potential 30.00 or something.
So the Bookmark's strategy, in the same situation, would been to offer the 30.00, and then hope they spend it, but in picking books from the Open Book, I realized that there was a downside that I'd never thought of.
When a person has more credit, it's more likely they will always be spending the "half" price. Whereas, if a person has limited credit, and their purchases go over, they'll be more likely to spend the full price on the overages.
Or....do they mostly put them back?
Anyway, something I had never thought about before. By actually using the process, I learned something.
I still think it's better to take as many books in as possible, but I think Linda had shifted to trying to make sure that every customer is offered some credit, taking as much as possible, but not taking in entire libraries....
Taking in quantities has given us, I think, a pretty good selection of books. Being more selective, but willing to buy books, has given the Open Book a good selection of books, as well. It's just a different strategy -- and since we were a start up, not so long ago, that makes sense. Neither is right or wrong.
If I ever have a more modest sized bookstore -- my goal for when I'm older -- I'll probably have to limit intake pretty drastically. But for the Bookmark, being inclusive has been one of it's reasons for success.
Gee. I'm being very understanding today.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Animal House and the U of O.
I was going to the U of O when they were filming this.
I walked by the cafeteria one day and there was a crowd in front of the windows, so I wandered over. They a makeup chair in the corner, and John Belushi was sitting in it.
He looked bored out of his gourd.
At least that's my memory of it; why they would set the chair facing outward, I have no idea.
I also stumbled across the big fake statue, covered in a tarp, on one of my midnight wanderings.
That's my anecdote.
Because my college experience was about as far from Animal House as it could get.
My going to college, and the break in-between, and my lingering in the student ghetto afterwards -- coincided with my decade of depression. I was pretty much alone, a wraith, around the time of Animal House. My dorm buddies had all moved on, and I was still finishing up with some last minute courses.
I don't have warm and fuzzies for the U. of O. even though it wasn't their fault. Just wasn't a good decade for me.
A year or two later, I quit my gas station job (I had my degree, but was working in a gas station) went to my little one room quad, wrote my books Star Axe and Snowcastles and Icetowers, moved back to Bend, met Linda, bought the store...and that decade has receded into the far past.
These days, I tend to only remember it when I'm reminded.
What am I doing wrong?
I'm trying to imagine my grandparents picking music I would've liked...
Cam Newton (Heisman Trophy Winner) calls himself an "entertainer and icon."
Not another one of-- those-- guys...
Local real estate blog proclaims local housing is "affordable!"
Well, that's one way of putting it...
The King's Speech is a fine movie -- but it just isn't anything special. It's like Chariots of Fire or something -- just not something that will be among the greats.
A safe choice, I guess.
If they had any balls, they give the Academy Award to Toy's Story 3, just because it's time an animated movie won. (Up!)
Gadhafi blames the rebellion in Libya on Bin Laden.
That's good, right?
That he doesn't blame the U.S.A.
Linda: "Did you know I'm not perfect?"
"What! I demand a divorce, right now! I was misled!"
"Yeah, this ear is lower than my other ear...."
"Oh....I see. Your EARS aren't perfect..................
Ridgeview High School.
That's the name you get when it goes through a committee. Bland, generic, and...
What was that name again?
The population of Bend is....?
80,995 City Limits Sign
83,125 City of Bend estimate.
One of the more argumentative issues among the bubble bloggers was whether Bend would actually lose population in the bust.
I thought it would.
So did it, or didn't it?
Based on what I've seen in my store, I think we not only lost population; but in a de facto way, we lost way more population than even the Census uncovered (4,300 people.)
I've had many regular customers leave town. But even more so, I have a large number of regular customers who haven't officially left town -- often their families are still here, and their residence -- but who are nevertheless working elsewhere.
Back in the 80's we were bleeding residents -- because there were actual jobs elsewhere. I think we've slowed down the bleeding this time because of the lack of jobs elsewhere, as well as the difficulty in selling homes.
And it should be pointed out that if you've had steady, even spectacular growth for decades, that's what you plan for. So even breaking even is probably a set back. Actually declining is probably a double whammy.
To me, that was the whole point in discussing the boom and bust: Planning for it. I think our city officials failed in that; and seem to still be in some denial.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
A naif with great instincts.
I turned to my wife on Sunday and said, "I wish I had sold everything last week."
I know when I bought Barnes and Noble stock, that there was a cost involved. When it reached a peak of 15% higher, I thought I ought to sell, but I wasn't sure how much it would cost.
As of today, the stock is 10% lower than when I bought it, for a swing of 25%.
It was a small amount I invested, just to experiment. But obviously, I need to do more research, because what stopped me from selling was fear of costs, and I'm not sure about that.
I'm a naif.
A naif with great instincts, I think, which come from watching the collectibles market rise and fall for a few decades. It appears to me that there are many similar characteristics in customer behavior.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
"....a six-building project with 33,300 square feet of retail, 19,500 square feet of restaurants, 20,700 square feet of offices, 54 condominiums and underground parking."
They're selling it on the short market for "about half"..."paid in 2005 at the height of the real estate boom." Bulletin, 2/22/11.
How could this ever have seemed like a good idea? I especially like the "underground parking" part, because it so shows how unaware newcomers are of the lava rock underpinnings of Bend. Other than the Franklin Crossing building (another development that it's hard to believe wasn't an overreach) I'd be hard pressed to think of "underground parking" being much of an option around here.
And it makes me wonder, if Juniper Ridge was a privately owned development, would it still be around? Or would it also be on the short sale market.
Monday, February 21, 2011
Drawing lines in the sand.
A few years back, I decided that I wouldn't play video games. Not because I didn't think I would like them but because I thought I might like them too much. (My wife was convinced I would enjoy a Wi i; but I've played it once or twice, and decided it was a complete waste of time.)
Denying myself the pleasures? Why would I do that?
I think I feel that modern life is diluting experiences. Breaking them down into smaller and smaller, shallower and shallower experiences.
Like my reaction to speed reading. Why would I do that? I enjoy reading too much.
I decided in business to draw the line at electronics -- I did bring in anime, which proved to be a mistake because it held within it's customer base the earliest of early adopters. It made it easy to decide never to carry electronic gaming in my store -- I make the joke, "One more product line and my brain explodes!"
So I'm sticking with books. No kind of e-reader.
I'm not saying everyone needs to be like me. I don't doubt that the younger generation are incorporating the changes faster than I am.
But I still like curling up every night with my book and dissolving into a story.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Misunderstanding supply and demand.
But it isn't that clear cut.
It took me years to realize that a couple of pieces are missing from formulation.
What happens when:
1.) Supply is high and Demand is high?
2.) Supply is low and Demand is low?
I'd have to say, those two equations are the more likely, for the vast majority of product.
So it's a bit more complicated than people think.
First of all, the situation of supply being low and demand high never holds. Supply ALWAYS catches up to demand; unless, I suppose, you're dealing with precious metals or something. But if it can be produced, it will be produced -- and then over-produced.
So the situation I find myself in most often is enough supply; but also low demand.
Here is where I think most people lower prices, which I think is the wrong thing to do. You are only going to have so much interest in any product, but counter-intuitively, when there is little interest, you can usually get the customer to pay full price. Because even though there is a large supply, because of low sales most merchants won't be carrying the product any longer, which creates a de facto lower supply.
On the other hand, NO amount of low prices will increase demand if there is no demand.
So you might as well be rewarded for investing in, gambling on, a product that is in lower demand.
There is also the matter of buying lower quantities, thus usually paying higher prices. So what you want is full price, so you can replace the product; or, conversely, if it doesn't sell, you still have the product in stock.
This is a hard thing to explain. Higher prices creating lower demand on purpose. But it's a bit like having your cake and eating it too. The equation of selling a product 4 or 5 times to get the profit from selling once, but also having the product in stock, makes sense when there is sales volume. But when sales volume drops, you may get stuck with that last purchase without a profit or you may just stop carrying the product.
This is probably what most stores do -- liquidate the product, and get their money back.
But once you decide on having a long-tail sort of store -- or circumstances dictate that you must have a long-tail sort of store -- getting rid of product is counter productive. You want just a little left at the end, so that one person who walks in once a year can find it.
Because it's not all just about the individual sale -- it's about what you carry, and what people perceive you to be carrying, and how you can afford to carry it.
I figured out early on that it's better to have a product at a higher price, then to have lower price but not have the product.
So as demand starts to drop on a product, I'm much more likely to firm up the price -- and go on to the next thing.
Our culture is mostly too much supply, and not enough demand. Not sure how that works out in the long run, except that we'll have full landfills.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
A universe beyond.
Of my wife's construction.
Otherworldly, homely, pvc pipe and wax,
swirling purple and pink paint.
I work on my accounts, the floor vibrating.
I look up from my book to the sound of a chime,
a Buddhist chant, the smell of candles,
my wife's secret room, shared with
the water heater.
I read my mystery, and smile.
My wife's dream, told while I pour my
morning coffee, (hazelnut creme),
a wild adventure, saving kids and cats,
told with unswerving enthusiasm.
I try to shake the fog from my brain.
Over the sound of the T.V.
C-span politics, I hear the flute,
A familiar tune she wrote early,
practicing her scales.
The cat and I listen intently from the couch.
My wife knits a thick blanket,
soft and pink and blue pastels,
counting stitches, and lost in
her spinning work.
I browse the net in peace.
My wife is lost in her story,
staring at the laptop,
making up exotic names
and alternate worlds.
I putter around the kitchen making dinner.
I live two lives in this one
mine is what it is, hers a universe beyond.
By the middle of this week, I was feeling pretty discouraged. Some horribly slow days, so that by Thursday, I was thinking my minimum low was busted.
I went home muttering to myself and to Linda.
Woke up the next morning, and thought to myself: "Hey, it's late February! Don't be drawing no conclusions based on late February!" (Besides, I figured out later that Thursday sucked because the afternoon was taken up by families were were downtown for the free Winterfest street events -- either that, or Marty Stuart fans. Now, I like Marty Stuart, and I like country western, but it's the one kind of music that I actually have customers object too -- not even opera or jazz seems to faze them, but CW does...)
Yesterday was a huge day. Just had people marching in and spending money. A few of them mentioned "tax returns", so I'm back on my minimum schedule again. I think the fact that it's a holiday on Monday helps -- it seems like over the last few years, more and more people are turning these into 3 and 4 day weekends.
Overall, I think the economy in Bend is pretty bad. I'm impressed by the resiliency of downtown businesses -- I know that people hang on pretty tight to their dreams. I hope that continues...
Friday, February 18, 2011
Biodiversity is a bitch.
Bull. They're a corporation who had no problem putting as many independents as they could out of business. I may have sympathy for the employees, but I have none for Borders.
Or the publishers, who thought it was a good idea to put most of their business into three baskets -- Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Borders. Instead of the 8,000 or more independent bookstores that existed 20 years ago.
Biodiversity is a bitch.
And while the publishers are suffering, they might want to think about how assiduously Amazon is trying to screw them with Kindle, and B & N is trying to screw them with the Nook.
Didn't see it coming?
Of course not. The dinosaurs never see the asteroids coming. But they should have realized SOMETHING was coming, and instead of having 8,000 individual buyers to sell to, that maybe it wasn't particularly safe to have 3 buyers.
Kind of interesting that all the downtown banners are advertising an Old Mill event. I'm for cooperation as much as the next guy, but I usually don't purposely send people away from my own shopping area.
I assume this is a city thing -- and that the Old Mill banners return the favor?
Silly -- every time I see Bed, Bath, and Beyond, I hear an old timey announcer. "Bed, Bath....and BEYOOOONNND!!!"
This is not to make light of what happened to her, which was truly horrible.
But every time I hear the name Lara Logan, I think she should have a boyfriend named Clark.
Come on now, am I wrong?
"...Cop Sold Guns To Other on Force."
Well, I guess we know where to start the spending cuts....
Before everyone gets too upset over the closing of the Indoor Market, just remember there are reasons for zoning.
For instance, parking.
But don't I want business in Bend to succeed?
But you know what would be even cheaper for a business ?-- operating permanently out of their house or lawn.
You wouldn't mind all those cars parked in front of your house or in your driveway, would you? For the sake of business?
I pay the rent I pay because of the surrounding infrastructure. I'm not sure I think that people should be able to avoid those costs -- for one thing, it's an unfair competitive advantage.
You have to pay your way, folks.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Couldn't help myself.
The guys comment, in part:
"I’m just a guy who travels a lot and I’ve found these clubhouse stores *everywhere*. In my experience, they far outnumber the amount of good stores to the point I honestly feel the good stores, like yours, are the statistical outliers."
I feel like I have the perfect “test case” store; in a small metro area, been here for 31 years. (Pegasus Books of Bend, Oregon.)
Yesterday, I had a guy come in and ask for Adrian Tomine. We found in the store:
Optic Nerve: 30 Postcards
Scenes from an Impending Marriage
and a couple issues of Optic Nerve.
I bring this up to give an indication of how much independent material I carry.
He was from Seattle, and bought 32 Stories…
So…I haven’t had a single local ask for Adrian Tomine, or sold one of his graphic novels — in years, ever?
I can only make this work because I get tourist business; and even then, it’s a hard sell.
I’m proud of my store and what I carry, and I’ve managed to bring this material in and make it work, BUT….I would never second guess smaller stores who say they can’t sell it.
It’s a hard sell, but I think worth trying for.
The Ideal Store.
Retailer, Brian Hibbs, has a 'review' of four comic shops that were part of a bus tour at the Comic Pro conclave. His main point was how different each of the four store were from each other.
Over on The Beat, there are two long threads about the imminent(!) demise of comic shops to digital, where you can just feel the 'love' toward us. (Many comic readers seem convinced that most comic shops suck; but at least, that's a slight improvement from years ago when they were convinced that ALL comic shops suck.)
As I've commented before, I'm amazed by the variety of bookstores that Linda and I run into on our bookstore roadtrips.
I've decided the ideal store -- which would meet everyone's approval -- simply isn't possible.
Even if you could pick the perfect spot, buy exactly the fixtures you want, and fill it with exactly the inventory you desire, it would still be -- too much or too little -- of something or another.
But very few of us can start with a blank slate.
So why are stores so different? I've come up with several reasons.
1.) Location. Where you're located is going to dictate what product will sell, and how you display it, and even your pricing. Linda's store is located in a semi-industrial area between the old main drag and the railroad tracks. A large space, visible to drive by traffic. Filled with books and nothing but books. She depends on volume.
My store, on the other hand, is in an old downtown district, not very visible from the road but with lots of walk-by traffic. My space is expensive and limited, and I've been slowly but surely developing 'mainstream' product to attract the customer off the street. Diversified, fully retail priced.
A thousand reasons why the physical location may make one product possible, and another impossible.
2.) The physical layout of your store. Again, the size and shape of your space is going to dictate what you can carry, and how much you can carry. There are comic shops, for instance, that are more like my wife's store; larger space, cheaper rent, where they can displays boxes and boxes of back issues. Whereas my store space is limited and expensive, and I've been forced by those circumstances to store my back-issues in the basement and load up the shelves with graphic novel collections.
There will be complaints, too, that my store is too crowded. Yet, what do I do when I know from experience that the more product my store has, the better the sales? I'm perfectly capable of creating a less crowded store that might be more visually appealing to some customers, but my sales would be less and I can't afford that. I try my best to keep everything tidy -- and not push the boundaries into claustrophobia, but I simply can't create the wide corridors that my wife's store has.
There are many more examples of how space dictates the type of store you have.
3.) Your history. I could find a bigger, maybe even a more ideal location, but I've got 27 years of credit built up where I'm at. I don't believe that the grass is always greener -- like I said, whatever you gain by a move, you might lose somewhere else. I'm nearing the end of my career and don't need the stress or gamble of a move. If it ain't broke...
You also have the inventory you have -- what's left, what fads came and went leaving behind their refuse, what you've managed to create a client base for, and so on. It may not be the ideal mix, but it's the mix you got.
An ideal store would probably have to be recreated every time circumstances change, and that isn't economically feasible, obviously.
4.) The owners tastes and abilities. My store is a mix of pop culture product. I love books, new and old; but I also like unique toys, and I enjoy playing boardgames, and I love art books and comic books, I even kind of have a nostalgic glow toward sports cards (which has given me no end of grief).
I know there will be comic customers that will reject my store because I'm not pure. I don't have enough back issues, for instance. I've diluted my store with non-comic stuff -- even toys can be a turn off to some purists.
Since every store owner is different, every store will be different.
5.) Finally, (I think I could probably come up with reasons all day long as to why stores are different but I'll end with this...) the ideal store can't exist, because customers expectations are different, as different as the number of customers.
I know visiting bookstores that I'm attracted to the crowded with inventory, books piled high in the corridors, little nooks and crannies, type used bookstore. My wife likes the exact opposite kind of store -- wide and spacious, but with less inventory.
I personally don't care for mixing used and new books together (the Powell's example), but other people love it.
There are probably thousands of examples of differences in customer tastes -- and you simply can't please everyone.
A ideal store would immediately start straying from the ideal, the minute you opened. You'd buy exactly the right quantity of items, for instance, but sell out of some and be unable to replace them. You'd have the customer drop the last remaining copy of something else. You'd develop a greeting patter that would instantly turn off some people, while being exactly what you need to get most people to stay.
And so on.
I wonder sometimes if comic customers are just less understanding than other types of customers. O.K. I know that in the past, there have been lots of sucky comic shops -- but I know from experience that much of that had to do with the limited finances this hobby affords.
You can't carry more than you can sell, you know.
My feeling is that comic shops are improving, Darwinian-wise. But they'll never be perfect.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
I chew and chew on something, spit it out, chew it some more, until I've gummed every morsel.
But even I am getting sick of the sheer volume of speculation about digital books and comics.
Every site I go to. Extrapolating from very limited evidence.
It's a bit like trying to figure out global warming from watching the local weather.
Frankly, I wasn't really worried about books until this started happening. I felt books and comics were going to be just fine, left alone.
But they aren't being left alone. They're being pushed off a cliff.
I'm already figuring that it's going to be much harder to ever sell an existing bookstore or comic store -- no matter how well it's doing, because of the perception that e-books are taking over.
So far -- 1% of comic sales are digital.
Oh, well. I'll just keep adjusting.
Sell on the news?
(ADDED later: I should probably mention, Borders declared Chapter 11 this morning. Hard to see how they can come back...)
It's been five weeks since I bought Barnes and Noble stock, and at one point this morning, it was 15% higher.
I wanted to see if I could pick a stock, when it seemed obvious that it was underpriced. Ironically, it was B & N, who isn't exactly a friend of independents -- but who made a whole lot of money at Christmas, but who's stock hadn't budged. As far as I could tell, their overall financials were solid.
I thought that when Borders declared bankruptcy, that people would realize that B & N was likely to pick up market share. It even seemed like a bit of a hedge bet, because either the Nook was successful, or the paper books were successful, or both -- and it didn't seem likely that both would fail in the short run.
So -- the worst thing that can happen to a gambler is to have a big win. It just encourages him.
One: I didn't bet so much that it makes much difference.
Two: I'm still really skeptical that it is possible to 'pick' stocks on a consistent basis.
I have been looking so closely at the book trade for so long, that I saw this as an opportunity.
Still, I think I might trust the next time I have this impulse.
For now, I'm hanging onto the stock. It'll probably drop (second thoughts) and then start straying upward for awhile. But long term, I don' think B & N is in a super strong position, so I'm going to want to sell at some point.
That was fun.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
A little warning would've been nice.
That's a lot of snow.
I've never not opened my store because of weather, but I'm tempted. I have a couple of hours to hope the snowplow makes it to my street.
NOTE: P.S. I am going to open today, because my UPS shipment is schedule to show up. So, even if the lights are off, I'm there!
Monday, February 14, 2011
Bookstore roadtrip, Pt. 3.
We left More Fun after a long talk with Scott. Next up, Shakespeare Books, and down the street from that Antiquarian Books. Both stores specialize in the kind of 'collector' books that Linda and I pay no attention to.
We have shelves behind the counter at the Bookmark where we place the "older" books; books that look kind of vintage and such. But we price most of them very modestly, and figure that it's mostly about the appearance and atmosphere.
The second store, I sort of said, "I see you don't have any mysteries or science fiction."
The clerk nearly curled her lip, but managed with great effort to say, "No, we let the other guys do that," and pointed us to a bookstore out the back door and down the alley.
(I appreciate the effort it took not to curl her lip in disdain -- I recognized it..._)
We found the Book Exchange a block away.
It seems like every town has one of these stores -- they often even have "Exchange" in the title.
They were the going model 20 years ago. But times have changed, and most of these stores haven't changed with them, and so they are slowly disappearing.
This store actually traded straight. She offered 20% in trade, which is slightly less than what we offer, but no money needed to be spent.
"There's nothing like FREE to get more customers..." she said.
I just shook my head. This is the second time I've heard that sentiment. On the coast I had an owner say, "I couldn't charge for trade. I'd lose all my customers!" To which I'd said, "You mean, all the ones who don't spend money?"
Still, they seem happy enough to do it. I will say though, none of these "exchanges" look prosperous to me. They seem like they're just scraping by....
I did ask her if she ever thought to charge a bit with every transaction. "Oh, no," she said. "It's way too complicated. The other exchange store does that, but my employees would never figure it out."
"Then you need a simpler formula or smarter employees," I said. At which point Linda herded me away from counter. (Really, it didn't come across as mean, or anything -- and the lady laughed at the "smarter employees" crack.)
That was pretty much it for Ashland. The Soundpeace Bookstore was all new age; and there were a few books in Paddington Station, a gift store, mostly Shakespeare. What was interesting to me, was they put most of their books on little book standups that were emblazoned "Quirky." As you know, I've used the word "Quirky" to describe my own selection. I wish I had asked them where they got those standups.
On our way out of town, we looked in the windows of Quality Books in Talent, which was another of those 'exchanges.'
We drove on down the Brookings, and checked in at a Beachfront motel; they had 'ocean' front units, and 'beachfront' units. The 'beachfront' units were 30.00 more, which we took. The next morning, we realized that there was only a few feet of beach and a slight angle difference...
In Brookings, we visited Words and Pictures, which we do every trip. Nice older woman who has great taste in books. For a small new bookstore, I think she has great inventory. I asked her if she worked from lists, or had a formula for picking books. "No, whatever looks good."
The back three fourths of the store was a gallery. Personally, I'd probably expand the bookstore section, but...obviously, the art was just as important to her.
Still, it was interesting to see how many really good books she could pack into a small space.
We also visited The Book Dock, which is right on the wharf. A small building, with a fairly small selection of books. A very pleasant woman who talked about her store and her life; which was refreshing after meeting so many closed mouthed owners.
The next day, on our way back to Bend, we checked out Earl B. books. This store had moved 3 times since we started these trips (4 if you count his move from La Grande). This incarnation was smaller, and stacked with books.
Again, the inventory was very good. He talked about he was going to quit taking in "fluff."
This is the kind of smaller store, packed with good titles but manageable for one person, that I can see myself doing in my dotage.
And that was it. Way more bookstores than we normally find. I wasn't taking notes, which if I'd known we'd be visiting so many bookstores, I probably would've done.
It's fun to have a goal on these trips. It seems to add structure and purpose to what might just be simple meandering. And visiting bookstores is extremely pleasant. I learn something every trip, some insight or trick or technique I've never thought of. The bookstores are all different, though they have similar features.
I think we'll keep doing these bookstore roadtrips.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Keepin' em' honest.
First a "things are looking up" story from John Stearns in today's Bulletin, "Bank Back to Playing Offense."
Says Patricia Moss, CEO of Cascade Bancorp: "Now we're actively calling on businesses and saying, 'If you have a need for the dollars and ability to repay, we're here to do small business lending..."
On the other hand: Later in the story: "But many small businesses are struggling with the economy and won't qualify, Moss said."
O.K. Fair enough. Basically, they'll loan to any business that doesn't actually need a loan, and won't loan to any business that actually does need a loan.
Business as usual.
But it's the gray area in-between that really counts. The businesses where it might be a small risk to loan to, but which have potential. But business that could really spring to life with an infusion of cash.
I have no way of knowing if Bank of the Cascades is loaning to this middle zone: but I suspect not.
The last Cascade Business News was a whopper.
Usually I leave this 'newspaper' alone. It does what it does -- promote local businesses with feel good stories, boosting the prospects, being your basic Babbitt.
Again, fair enough. I suppose someone has to do it.
But this last issue went a little beyond that.
The local business community brought in an outside speaker to a conclave and asked him for his honest opinion about the local economy.
Here's what Economist Bill Watkins said, "Three years after the beginning of the recession, and a year after the end of the recession, Central Oregon's economic prospects are distressingly dismal, characterized as they are by continued job losses, still-declining real estate prices, negative net migration and economic growth so weak as to be barely measurable."
The CBN's response was to line up 50 businesses and a bunch of local to contradict that statement.
To me, this is intellectually dubious.
Starting with Pamela Hulse Andrew's editorial: "Taking Issue with Gloomy Economic Predictions." (It's fair to point 0ut, the Ms. Andrew's recently declared personal bankruptcy.)
Most of the other "coaches and consultant" quoted in the paper were to my mind equally dubious.
I personally don't think the economy in Bend "is getting better" and I think that saying so, and especially doing everything you can to try to drown out a objective third party who you asked their honest opinion from, is just boosterism gone wild.
The cold from hell.
And why does the worst of the cold hit me on my days off?
I'll try to write something later in the day, but if it doesn't happen, at least I've made my once a day entry.
I'm still adjusting to the addition of the Sunday N.Y. Time's to my life.
I'm finding that I have time to read it if nothing else is happening much. I'm enjoying the longer form stories (not quite ready yet for the even longer New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly stories).
It's a refreshing change for the short snaps of the internet sites, and the truncated reprints.
Then again, I'm addicted to those little bursts of info from Huffington Post, and it's ilk.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Short bits, for short attention spans...
But the rumors are starting up all over again for next week.
From conversing with my customers, this seems to be common knowledge. But what's amazing is how many people think it's Barnes and Noble that's going bust. The public apparently conflates the two stores.
Marvel has a .1 program to make it "easy" to jump into the continuity of their ongoing titles, so for instance, the numbering Wolverine 5.1., between #5 and #6.
Of course, what immediately becomes obvious if you try to explain what they are doing, is that it just adds yet another layer of complexity to the continuity.
Linda got interviewed by KTVZ about e-books. She says, "I think I babbled. I was just fine talking until he suddenly said, "Pay no attention to the camera."
I know what she means. It makes me so nervous, I refuse to be interviewed by T.V. or radio.
We tried finding the interview that night, but Linda wasn't even sure who she had been interviewed by -- so either it was only on the 5:00 airing, or it was a different channel.
Five people mentioned it to her yesterday, so apparently it happened.
"Cheney backs Mubarak." The old guy has perfect totalitarian instincts.
"Sarah and Bristol Trademarked." Says all you need to know. The trademarked presidential candidate. She could wear corporate logo's on her tailored suits.
And that she forgot to sign the application -- perfect.
I think I'll just call her "The Trademark" from now on.
Anyone else having an upsurge in allergy over the last week? Is it just me?
I'm beginning to think it's a very light cold.
Later: Nope. It's a real cold, and a doozy, and the second cold in the last few months. That never happens.
It was warmer and sunnier on the coast last weekend than some of our August visits.
This was the first bookstore roadtrip (more on that later today or tomorrow) that I didn't find a book to buy. Kinda strange.
(I still need to finish my bookstore roadtrip entries...see above "short attention span...")
Friday, February 11, 2011
Goliath and the Flea.
He'd found a government site with demographics that gave raw numbers on what each 'hobby' was selling in the area. Apparently, if you write in an address, it will tell you how much sold within a certain distance.
So the numbers for some of the hobbies was pretty high; millions, or at least, hundreds of thousands.
Now I applaud him for doing research; but I tried to warn him that, in this case, it probably didn't have as much meaning as he thought.
"Dude," I said. "That isn't going to be your money. It isn't distributed evenly."
What I was trying to express is that the raw demographic numbers don't really reflect what Bend will give you. I believe because of the isolation, the lack of a college, the lack of interstate, the type of industry and the type of residents we get in Bend, that the national averages don't hold up.
But after he left, I realized that we hadn't gotten to the real problem with the raw numbers; the mass market.
I would advise anyone thinking of opening a small business to expect to access only 10% of the total sales in any product line. That 10% has to be divided among all the other independent stores. Actually, 10% is a really high number, 5% is probably more realistic.
For instance, independent bookstores accounted for 6% of book sales last year.
I think the general public has the notion that there is some kind of battle between the small local stores and the national chains. They think in terms of some sort of David and Goliath fight.
Uh, uh. Not even close. That battle was lost long ago.
It's more like a battle between Goliath and a flea, where the flea just hopes the big stupid human won't notice him long enough to swat him down.
Fighting the last war...
They create the Maginot line because of their experience with trench warfare, and they don't see the blitzkrieg coming.
In hindsight, the music industry probably tried too hard and for too long to protect the existing platforms for music -- CD's, etc.
But I'm afraid that the book (and comic) industry is taking the wrong lesson from this.
I think music is music, and I don't think the method of conveyance matters that much.
I believe that books have an inherent quality that can't be completely reproduced by e-books.
I won't go into all the differences -- I wrote a blog a year or two ago that went on for dozens of differences; let's just say, I think there is a substantial difference. The medium is the message.
I recently listened to my first book on a CD (our bookstore roadtrip); PETER AND MAX, by Bill Willingham. Actually, though, it was read by Wesley Crusher from Star Trek (Wil Wheaton). He put the nuance in the phrasing, the emphasis on the words.
It was more in the way of a performance, than reading.
I enjoyed it, O.K. But I still very much prefer to read books with my own interpretations.
E-books are as different from paper books as T.V. is from Movies. I still prefer to go to the theater to watch movies...
This difference, I believe, is worth protecting and fighting for. It's too soon to throw books under the bus.
Despite the last war -- that the music industry fought -- I believe we should fight a more rear guard action; fend off digital as long as possible. Make concessions only when we have to.
But, you know, I'm probably the only guy in country that feels that way.
There are indeed lessons to learn from the music industry; one of them, I believe, is that performance will not -- in fact -- completely replace the revenues lost from recordings. The concert tours last year apparently sucked.
I know I'm not going digital, no matter what. If that means I get put on the ice flow to drift away, so be it.
Over reacting to e-books.
RDC asks (pesky fellow).
I don't know that I've changed my mind. I think the end of my career is dovetailing nicely with the new paradigm, in that I'm not interested in doing digital, and if I'm forced to do digital, I'd rather bow out gracefully.
But this was assuming that it would be a natural process; that is, if everything stays steady.
I'm getting a little worried about that.
Over the course of my career, I'm used to seeing problems ahead that no one else sees. I'm used to being the most pessimistic person in the room; other retailers and distributors and publishers often seem blind to dangers I see coming around the bend.
Maybe it's just getting concentrated doses through internet sites, but it seems to me that I've become the most optimistic retailer (distributor, publisher) in the room. I think, left alone, that digital will slowly take a bigger and bigger piece of the pie, but as a retailer I could make adjustments as it happens.
I'm getting concerned that I may not have much choice in the matter; for a couple of reasons.
1.) That the infrastructure for the comic and book business is not strong enough to hold together despite the drop being in -- what for me would be a survivable -- 10 to 20% drop range.
After all, bookstores have had decades of blows from the likes of Barnes and Noble and Borders to absorbed, followed by at least a decade of Amazon, and in the same process getting hit by the chainstores like Costco and Walmart. This e-book thingy may be the final blow.
I depend on the publishers and distributors to survive. I can't sell product if it isn't being made, or if it isn't being processed and shipped.
2.) That The Powers That Be, those larger entities further up the food chain from me, will panic and institute changes that are destructive the business.
A little history here. In the early 1990's comics had their own little bubble -- actually a huge bubble in their own little world. When sales dropped off the face of the cliff, Marvel panicked.
They somehow reasoned that the drop in sales was because the distributors -- and ultimately, the retailers -- weren't doing the job. Instead of seeing the bubble for what it was -- an unrealistic sales balloon -- Marvel decided that they could re-inflate the bubble if they had their hands on all the levers --publishing, distributing, and direct contact with retailers.
It was a total disaster. It set into motion a series of events that just compounded an already dire situation. When all the dust settled, there was one surviving major distributor (Diamond), there were less than 3000 comic shops left (out of 12,000), and....not coincidentally -- Marvel was bankrupt.
What I wish every major player would consider is the concept of: "Do No Harm." Sometimes you just absorb the blows, and you don't make it worse with sudden, drastic moves.
That's what I'm worried about now; that the major publishers and distributors will over-correct, set into motion events with unforeseeable consequences, and replace a weak but functional situation into a weak and broken system.
I know no one wants to get caught behind the change curve, but I'm beginning to fear over-reaction more.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
More books for the rest of us...
What happens when e-reader owners empty their library? We've already seen it happen a couple of times.
I don't believe there is a shortage of books in the world. In fact, I think there is a huge surplus. I think this is due to the mass market and the internet and the thrift stores.
At least at first, I think this surplus of books is only going to increase.
The first thing that will change, in my opinion, will be the willingness of used bookstore owners to actually buy books cash. The "Powell's" model, if you will. They will get overwhelmed with sellers who will never again be buyers.
I think the surplus has already affected the "trade only" stores. Some of them are still clinging to life, and some have added unwieldy dues or fees to their trade policy. But it's possible now to get any book you want for mere pennies, if you scout the thrift stores and garage sales, which you can then trade for the books you really want.
The response to this flood has been, and this will only increase, is to be ultra selective which books they'll take in. I've mentioned before, I think this is counter-productive; that it gives a "no" message, and only makes the customer go elsewhere.
It may seem strange that a store that extends credit to half the price of a book would gain more customers than a store that let's you trade straight across --but, if the store that only trades is not accepting the majority of books coming in the door, and the trade for half credit is accepting most books that come in the door; well, I believe the store that accepts books and extends generous credit will actually seem like a more open store.
Plus, they actually make money.
Here's another thought. Eventually, the flood will recede and -- hey, paper books may be actually harder to find. Which will bring us full circle back to value and rarity.
The world is an ironical place, you know?
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Downtown Comings and Goings.
UPDATE: According to The Source, the sign says Closed for "Unforeseen Circumstances."
Meanwhile, there is a new wine shop opening in the space that Glass Symphony was in; called
NEW BUSINESSES DOWNTOWN
D'Vine, Wall St. , 2/9/11.
Let it Ride!, Bond St., 1/29/11.
Gatsby's Brasserie Bar, Minnesota Ave., 1/8/11
Tres Jolie, Wall St., 12/20/10.
Caldera Grill, Bond St., 12/7/10
Bond Street Grill, 12/7/10.
Perspective(s), Minnesota Ave., 11/20/10
Toth Art Collective, Bond St. 11/20/10
Boken, Breezeway, 11/20/10
Dalia and Emilia, Wall St., 10/3/10.
Antiquarian Books, Bond St., 10/3/10.
Giddyup, Minnesota Ave., 10/3/10.
The Closet, Minnesota Ave., 8/11/10.
Showcase Hats, Oregon Ave., 8/11/10,
Red Chair Art Gallery, Oregon Ave. 7/13/10.
Earth Sense Herbs, Penny's Galleria, 7/12/10.
Mad Happy Lounge, Brooks St., 6/2910
Common Table, Oregon Ave. , 6/29/10.
Looney Bean Coffee, Brooks St. , 6/29/10.
Bourbon Street, Minnesota Ave., 6/22/10
Feather's Edge, Minnesota Ave., 6/22/10
The BLVD., Wall St. , 6/13/10.
Volt, Minnesota Ave. 6/1/10.
Tart, Minnesota Ave. , 5/13/10
Olivia Hunter, Wall St. 4/5/10.
Tres Chic, Bond St. 4/5/10
Blue Star Salon, Wall St. 4/1/10.
Lululemon, Bond St. 3/31/10.
Diana's Jewel Box, Minnesota Ave., 3/25/10.
Amalia's, Wall St. (Ciao Mambo space), 3/12/10
River Bend Fine Art, Bond St. (Kebanu space) 2/23/10
Federal Express, Oregon Ave. 2/1/10
***10 Below, Minnesota Ave. 1/10/10
Tew Boots Gallery, Bond St. 1/8/10.
Top Leaf Mate, 12/10/09
Laughing Girls Studio, Minnesota Ave. 12/7/09
Lemon Drop, 5 Minnesota Ave., 11/12/09
The Curiosity Shoppe 11/5/09 25 N.W. Minnesota Ave, Suite #7.
Wabi Sabi 11/4/09
Frugal Boutique 11/4/09
5 Spice 10/22/09
Cowgirls Cash 10/17/09
***Haven Home 10/17/09
Dog Patch 10/17/09
The Good Drop 10/12/09
**Volcano Wines 9/15/09
Singing Sparrow Flowers 8/16/09
Northwest Home Interiors 8/5/09
High Desert Frameworks 7/23/09 (*Moved to Oregon Ave. 4/5/10.)
Wall Street Gifts 7/--/09
Ina Louise 7/14/09
Bend Home Hardware (Homestyle Hardware?) 7/1/09
Altera Real Estate 6/9/09
Azura Studio 6/7/09
Mary Jane's 6/1/09
Bella Moda 3/25/09
High Desert Gallery (Bend) 3/25/09
Great Outdoor Store
Luxe Home Interiors
Dudley's Used Books and Coffee
Bend Burger Company
(Fall, 2008 or so).
Di Lusso, Franklin/Bond, 2/9/11.
Earth Sense Herbs, Penny's Galleria, 1/2/11
Marz Bistro, Minnesota Av., 12/20/10.
The Decoy, Bond St., 12/7/10.
Giuseppe's, Bond St., 12/1/10.
Ina Louise, Minnesota Ave., 11/3/10.
Laughing Girl Studios, 10/21/10
Dolce Vita, Bond St, 10/21/10
Diana's Jewell Box, Minnesota Ave., 10/15/10.
Lola's, Breezeway, 10/8/10.
Oxygen Tattoo, Bond St., 10/3/10.
Great Outdoor Clothing, Wall St., 10/3/10.
Volcano Vineyards, Minnesota Ave., 10/3/10.
Subway Sandwiches, Bond St. 9/2/10.
Old Bend Distillery, Brooks St., 6/19/10.
Staccato, Minnesota Ave. 6/18/10.
Showcase Hats, Minnesota Ave., 6/1/10 (Moved to Oregon Ave., 8/10/11.)
Cork, Oregon Ave., 5/27/10.
Wall Street Gifts, 5/26/10
Microsphere, Wall St. , 5/17/10.
Singing Sparrow, Franklin and Bond, 5/15/10
28, Minnesota Ave. and Bond, 5/13/10.
Glass Symphony, Wall St., 3/25/10
Bend Home Hardware, Minnesota Ave, 2/25/10
Ciao Mambo, Wall St. 2/4/10
***Angel Kisses 1/25/10 (Have moved to 'Honey.')
Ivy Rose Manor 8/20/09
***Downtowner 8/18/09 (moving into the Summit location)
Chocolate e Gateaux 8/16/09
Finders Keepers 8/15/09
***Tangerine 7/21/09 (Got word, they are moving across the street.)
Micheal Cassidy Gallery 6/15/09
St. Claire Coffee 6/15/09
Luxe Home Interiors 6/4/09
***Volcano Tasting Room 4/28/09** Moved to Minnesota Ave.
Mountain Comfort 4/14/09
Tetherow Property 4/11/09
Blue Moon Marketplace 3/25/09
Downtown Doggie 3/25/09
***King of Sole (became Mary Janes)**
Made in Hawaii
Stewart Weinmann (leather)
Pella Doors and Windows
***Pomegranate (downtown branch)**
Pronghorn Real Estate office.
(Fall, 2008 or so.)
Ever heard of Jack Shandy?
ON STRANGER TIDES, by Tim Powers, came out in 1988. It had pirates and zombies and all kinds of cool stuff.
Powers was way ahead on the Pirate Curve (or the Zombie Curve, for that matter.)
I don't know how it came about, but the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean is entitled, On Stranger Tides; so either they felt guilty about stealing the concept, or they had bought the rights before, I don't know.
But I do know this is one of the funnist books I've every read. (I give up -- funnist is a word).
Powers is a magic realist, a fabulist of the first order. For all you beer guys out there, THE DRAWING OF THE DARK is a great fantasy involving the brew. He was way head on the Beer Curve.
ANUBIS GATES was the first Steampunk novel I ever read, I think before the term was even coined. He was way ahead on the Steampunk Curve.
I'm not as enamored of his later ghosty books, though they involve the ghosts of famous people, but...the early books are fantastic.
Bookstore roadtrip, Pt. 2
We popped into a coop art gallery, which happened to be clerked by the artist who's art we noticed the most-- who had done some funky cow and cat pictures. I wanted to buy one, but just before that, I'd purchased an orange citron necklace and earrings for Linda (her Valentine's Day gift.) So we picked out a magnet with one of her skinny cows on it, instead.
Had a nice discussion comparing downtowns.
Next place we hit was Bloomsbury Books. Nice place, nice selection. Clerk informed us that they were the only "real" new bookstore in town, and I'd have to say after wandering around the rest of the day, that I agree with her.
Which begs the question; how does Medford/Ashland rate #3 in the country for bookstores unless they are including used bookstores -- or they were including any store that was listed as carrying new books, of which there were four or five, but none of them really carried significant amounts.
These surveys probably are pretty superficial.
I will say, however, that Ashland has a plethora of used bookstores. Got to be one of the most per capita in the country. We found 5 just wandering around, and another in Talent, and I know there were more we didn't find, not even counting Medford which we never got to.
We went upstairs in Bloomsbury and had brunch in their coffee bar.
When we drove through the downtown the night before, I commented that I thought it looked more posh and upscale than Bend, but in walking around, I changed my mind. It had a more funky feel than downtown Bend, which I liked. Maybe a bit counter-culture; not as many high end restaurants, clothing stores, galleries or jewelry stores.
We next popped into a record store, called the Coop, where the guy informed me he'd been in business for 37 years....later, it turned out that he started down in Cal, then moved to Ashland in the last decade, and had only been in the downtown location for a month or so.
It was most eclectic selection of music Ive ever seen; lots of jazz and blues and vintage music -- he was playings 50's blues when we walked in.
I asked him what the "Best" independent rock CD that was out there, and he recommended the Decemberists. "Sold," I said. While picking it up, I saw the latest Cake CD (a group I only knew about because one of my guys had brought some of their music to the store), and I grabbed that, too. The owner saw he had a live one on the hook and he recommended Iron and Wind, which I also bought. (I mentioned, haven't I, that I liked to take the clerk recommendations if I think they know what they're doing...)
He warmed up to me after that, and we chatted about business. He knew about Ranch Records and asked me about their layout but I couldn't tell him (I send one of my guys down there usually when I want to buy something...)
This is how I buy music, sporadically, but in bunches.
One of the main goals of the trip was to visit More Fun, which is owned by Scott who I talk to fairly regularly on the phone. He was one of my inspirations to carry independent comics and to up my selection of graphic novels, in that I figured he was in a small tourist town and was succeeding, so maybe I could too.
He has a more funky counter cultural independent feel than my store. I've often wondered if I'm making a mistake trying so hard to "mainstream" my store, especially since I seemed unable to convince any locals I'm mainstream at all. My theory is that I'm getting regular folk off the street and I need to make my store appealing to them, but maybe I should just let my freak flag fly.
We spent an hour or so comparing notes, and Linda wandered off the visit some of the nearby gift shops. I tracked her down, and we continued our hunt for bookstores.
Part 3 soon.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Bookstore roadtrip, Pt. 1
I was commenting to Linda the difference between the north and south route up I-5 and up Hwy97,
To check out bookstores on 97, we'd see the one used bookstore in Klamath Falls, the two in Bend, the one in Redmond, and....that's it? New bookstores, the one in Sunriver and two in Bend, and....
Whereas, the same number of miles on I-5, we could visit the bookstores in Ashland, Medford, Grants Pass, Eugene, Salem, Roseburg, Portland, and any others. Dozens and dozens.
Oh, I left out the used bookstore in Chiloquin. I'm always amazed that this exists and that it is so full of books. We drove by at first to see if it was open. We saw the old owner in the doorway, with all the OPEN signs, so we turned around and pulled in.
The owner was gone, lights out. It was cold....a kitty came in and hopped up on the table and lavished furry attention on us, but ....no owner. We waited some more, and finally left.
"I think the old guy turned into a cat," I said. "He's a shapeshifter."
Linda just shook her head.
I've often wanted to just disappear when I see some customers coming, but I've never quite had the guts. (I'm joking, of course, but Linda wanted to be sure that everyone understands she doesn't feel the same way.)
We drove on to Klamath Falls, and checked out the used bookstore there. Basin Books, I believe. I took a book and a half with me on the trip, knowing that I'd be seeing so many bookstores that I'd probably be buying a bunch. I struck out here. The organization was a little confusing. Sometimes I think stores can have too many categories, or slicing the categories a little too finely. Mysteries seemed all over the store. Authors I think of as mystery writers, in regular fiction and vice versa.
However, this happens, as Linda and I well know.
It was busy, being a Saturday, and I believe the only bookstore there other than a Borders Express, which we also dropped in on.
Gave me the feeling of 'second place' to a Barnes and Noble --it was a smaller version, but still...didn't quite have as classy a feel.
We took the mountain cutoff to Ashland, and arrived in time to grab a room at the Stratford Inn.
Woke up the next morning with a crook in my neck; which means either I was really, really tired or the bed was too soft. Linda liked the amenities -- a coffee bar, a nice breakfast nook. There was a rugby team staying on our floor, and when I saw one of the guys getting on the elevator with a case of beer, I thought, "oh, oh." But they quieted down or moved somewhere else after about 10:00.
I pulled out the Yellow Pages and found what looked to be at least a dozen bookstores...some were obviously in Medford, so I didn't write those down. Instead, we drove around and tried to scout out the stores on the busier streets. It being a Sunday, we figured there might be a few bookstores open on Sunday in the downtown. (As I mentioned the other day, Medford/Ashland is the third most vibrant bookstore scene among metro areas in the U.S.)
We found Rogue Books and The Book Exchange, both closed. Peeking in the window, they were pretty typical inventory; Book Exchange signs and floor layout more of an industrial feel, and Rogue Books, being in a renovated old firestation, more of a neighborhood bookstore feel.
I also peered in Fun-a-gin games, which was impressively packed with games -- more mainstreamy than I would have thought (I guess I expected a bunch of exotic euro games). Could see they had cases and cases in a backroom; I think they do a lot of mailorder and discounting...)
It being nearly 10.00, we parked the car downtown Ashland and started walking. Turned out, we had a whole day of bookstore visiting to do....
Monday, February 7, 2011
I think they're trying to be sophisticated and subtle. Rife with inside knowledge and wink, winks.
I just want to shout, "Say what you mean!"
Very passive aggressive writing. Snarky, nudging, and "don't we insiders all know better...."
I see this mostly in the comics blogs -- I don't know, maybe they're overcompensating. I think they're also trying to become moving targets, because the comic blogosphere can be brutal.
One of the best blogs I read is Big Picture, an economics blog by Barry Ritholtz, which is straightforward, clearly written, personal and humorous, insightful and informative -- all at the same time.
Most of the other economic blogs I read are useful, but after reading them for awhile, you start to realize they have quirks. Mish's is weirdly anti-union; Naked Capitalism has a kind of inferiority complex; Calculated Risk has become less personal and more analytical over time.
Of course, I don't want anyone criticizing MY blog, but I'm just a little feller; these are the big boys and girls, and I figure they can handle it....
Sunday, February 6, 2011
Having faith in books.
You need to have faith that customers will buy the "good stuff."
Because, frankly, I don't know how else to order product....except to buy what I think is the good stuff, and keep buying the good stuff, and hope...when all is added up, that enough people have rewarded that faith to keep on going.
On a hour to hour, day to day, week to week basis -- it can be hard to see.
On a individual customer basis -- it can be hard to see.
But when I look at my order forms and see what sold over the last weeks or months-- well, there it is in black and white. The good stuff sells.
Then again, so does some of the (my opinion) mediocre stuff, and so does some of the crap.
I especially see the last two -- mediocre and crap -- sell from the used book area, because I try very hard not to buy that stuff new. Even though -- on the evidence of used books -- they might actually sell.
I figure if I starting buying crap that I think my sell, even though I know it's crap, I enter the territory of guessing, or a 'crap'shoot: once I start buying stuff only because I think someone might buy it even though I think it's junk, I think I'm lost. I have limited room, anyway, I might as well fill it with the "good stuff."
Oh, I buy a few authors new that I don't particularly like because of the demand; but I try to limit that, because if feels -- I don't know -- pandering, somehow.
"It's Your Job To Pander!" I can hear some of you saying. No -- it's Walmart's job to pander, it's my job to show some taste and judgment.
O.K. I do carry some stuff I consider mediocre. For instance, with apologies to anyone who liked these books, or whose kids liked these books; I think the Eragon books are pure dreck. Sorry. But -- there are kids who love them, who are going to keep reading books because they love them. When I recognize that "love" in a kid's eyes -- all I can do is get more of those books, whatever my own opinion.
But it has to be love, or something close to love, that will make me buy a mediocre book for the store...
How can you tell it's the "good stuff?"
It doesn't seem that hard to me. It doesn't have to be something I personally like, for instance -- I just need to know that other people really like it. You can tell by the tone of voice they use describing a book.
Someone starts raving about a book, and I'll pick up my clipboard and start writing them down to order.
Well, not all the time. First I try to figure out if the customer has liked the same kind of books I've liked in the past -- and if they spew out a bunch of books I didn't like, that's not such a good sign. But if they seem to have some discrimination, I'll respond.
I do pay attention to critics -- but there are so many good books being published that I take it another step and ask myself -- do I FEEL it? Is it something that fits my store?
I passed on THE HELP, for instance, because I wasn't feeling it. THE SECRET -- really wasn't feeling it.
I suppose there is a danger of my choices being too masculine -- but when I look out on my display rack that faces the door, I see LITTLE BEE, by Chris Cleave, A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD, by Jennifer Egan, LIKE WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, by Sara Gruen, and THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO. Most of these would seem to me to be books that would appeal to either gender.
I suppose the other danger is that my choices will be too geeky.
Sorry, can't help that. I am what I am.
But I do read a broad range of books -- in fact, my favorites are mysteries, followed by S.F. and Fantasy, followed by history, followed by mainstream. So...there is a definite tinge of the geek here, but not as bad as you might think. (Sadly, it doesn't take much geekiness to turn off some people --- they see a fantasy book and assume everything in the store is that way -- even though I might be carrying hundreds of classics and new literature...)
I guess I'm hoping that the geekiness, the quirkiness, will be part of the charm. After all, if you are such a broadminded soul that you only read "Literature" then you should be willing to grant me that.
Like I said, you can only hope that people respond. You have to have faith that investing in books that might takes weeks or months to sell, will eventually be rewarded.
Saturday, February 5, 2011
The Goon and superhero comics....
It's intimidating, I tell you.
I want to give the subjects their due, put some real thought and effort into it, but it's hard to find the time and energy.
So I think I'll just throw the subjects out there, and make a few comments, and let the rest of you decide what's important and what's not.
Finally learning how to Link again should help me here, because others have already put a lot of time and energy into the discussions. I'll let them carry most of the weight.
The first subject is the eternal (at least in the 31 years I've been doing this) argument that superhero comics are strangling the industry; that they have stomped on the artistic aspirations of generations of creators.
This current incarnation of the controversy comes from a video by Eric Powell the creator of the comic Goon, and apparently included some funny satire of a a superhero, um, screwing, rogering, driving home the point?, an independent comic.
The idea is, it's superhero comics, along with their enablers, the direct market and DC and Marvel, which are holding us back. This assertion caused the usual backlash from the superhero readers.
My employee Matt, who's a comic writer himself, pointed the video out to me and tried to get me to watch, but I was too busy at the time. Now, because of the firestorm of criticism, the video has been taken down.
However, Matt has written a response to all this on his blog, On The Subject of Being Awesome. You can also find his comments on our Pegasus Books Facebook. But I thought I'd throw my 2 cents worth in.
So, with a big resigned sigh, here goes:
I'll say this much. In the first 10 years of my career, I totally expected comics to diversify further, to become part of the mainstream the way S.F. and Fantasy novels had, to become accepted as an art form.
In some ways, that happened.
But where it counted -- sales -- not so much.
For the second 10 years of my career, I still expected it to happen, but was aware that it was an uphill struggle. Landmarks would come and go, which I expected to create Tipping Points, the Spider-man movie, (followed by all the other movies), especially. But nothing really changed, except in individual cases.
For the last 10 years of my career, I've come to the conclusion it will never happen. The built-in bias and misunderstanding of what comics are is too vast and deep to ever go away.
It's all fine and dandy that the intellectual class has to some extent come around, that Hollywood and Silicon Valley have plundered the creative ideas of the comic world.
Comics are still a hard sell, and always will be.
I feel like in some ways, I have a unique perspective. Independent comic readers complain that most comic shops, especially small town shops, don't make any effort to support independent comics. Well, I made a full and sustained effort to carry a huge selection of independent graphic novels. The kind that they all told me I should; and in return?
It's pretty pathetic, frankly.
If it wasn't for the fact that downtown Bend gets tourists, the whole thing could have been a disaster. Sales are sporadic, to say the least.
I've had a few local independent comic buyers over the years, never more than a few at any one time, and they'd buy a little -- but never in the numbers that the indie supporters would like to believe. Right now, I'd have to say I have no one in particular who I bother to point out the new indie releases to.
Now that the indie section is in place, I'm proud of it, and I can sustain it -- barely. I do it more as a gesture of goodwill, as a statement that I'm a good comic shop, than because I think sales actually justify it.
But ultimately, if the comic world doesn't support and sustain independent comics without Marvel and DC, it's because, bottom line -- the non-superhero readers simply don't buy enough of them!
Sure, prove me wrong. Come in buy some of the thousands upon thousands of indie graphic novels (I'm not exaggerating) that are gathering dust in the back of my store...
I'd love to be wrong about this.
Friday, February 4, 2011
Sleeping better, blogging less?
I finally met Lyle from Jake's, though we seem to have know each other for several years through our blogging. Just as I expected, we spoke the same language.
He mentioned that he writes his blogs because of insomnia and because he's been sleeping better, he's been blogging less.
(Again, can someone put a link into Jake's "Diner Life" Blog? I swear, as soon as I can remember I'm going to get one of my tech savvy friends to show me how to do it, and then....important, this...I'll use it often enough to learn it permanently. I'm a writer not a techer.)
Lyle's son, Jay, is getting into sports cards, and I hope I wasn't too negative about sports cards. I think it's a great hobby -- just not a real great money making venture...
One thing I think Lyle and I have in common in our business is that we follow our hearts and our instincts and manage to create businesses that have survived the ups and downs, even if they haven't made us rich.
Frankly, hard-nosed businessmen would never open a bookstore or a comic shop or a card shop or game store (or a diner?) in the first place-- once they looked at the figures. Fortunately, there seems to be enough people who combine business savvy and love of the business to keep them going.
Quick book impressions.
I read 9 books in January, well ahead of my 6 book a month pace.
THE DRAGONS OF BABEL, Michael Swanwick. Sequel to THE IRON DRAGON'S DAUGHTER, which is one of my favorite all time books. Steampunk fantasy, with corporate elite elves, and mechanical dragons, and great mixture of fantasy and modern sensibilities.
This book wasn't anywhere near as good. (Did I over-estimate the worth of the first book because it was so fresh at the time?) Too much magic out of the hat, and a little bit too light-hearted. (I like my fantasy serious.)
SHIP BREAKER, Paolo Bacigalupi. A young adult novel that I thought frankly was better than his big breakout book, THE WINDUP GIRL. It's as good or better than THE HUNGER GAMES (which I very much enjoyed.) Good science fiction, no matter what age it's aimed at.
61 HOURS, Lee Child. As I've mentioned before, the author seems to be really stretching to fit his hero into outlandish plots. Reacher (he's living up to his name) just happens to be riding on a bus that lands him in a conspiracy in the middle of nowhere.
I, SNIPER, Stephen Hunter. These sniper books were absolutely great books when they started. DIRTY WHITE BOYS, for instance, was tough, gritty, realistic noir crime. They've become more and more superhero rightwing fantasy as they've gone along. But Hunter is still such a good writer, that they're great fun to read.
L.A. NOIR, John Buntin. A non-fiction book that details the L.A. police department from the early part of the century to the late 20th century riots. Using, as protagonists, William Parker who rose to become police chief, and Mickey Cohen, who was Bugsy Siegel's underling but took over the L.A. rackets when his boss got his head blown off.
I loved THE BIG NOWHERE and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, by James Ellroy, but I suppose I thought his detailing of police corruption and machinations was fictional.
If anything, he might have toned it down. Well, he didn't exaggerate much. This is great background for lovers of Chandler, and Hammett, and Ellroy.
THE OUTFIT and THE MAN WITH THE GETAWAY FACE, Richard Stark. The sort of short, snappy novels they don't write anymore, with the main character Parker, one of the great creations of crime fiction. No nonsense heist books. Love them, eat them like candy.
THE FORTY SIGNS OF RAIN, Kim Stanley Robinson. Read this and try to doubt Global Warming. Turns out to be part of a trilogy, which unknowingly I had read the middle book, FIFTY DEGREES BELOW. (I looked through my notebook and couldn't find record of having read it -- I wonder how often I've done that....?) Great, geeky near future S.F.
HOUSE OF SUNS, Alastair Reynolds. Grand space opera, far far future, love his stuff.
THE LONG FALL, Walter Mosely. Most of Mosely's books are set in the past L.A. , and I think he's much better back then. His noir doesn't ring quite as true when it's set in the modern era and in N.Y. . Still, a very good writer who's worth reading no matter where or when he sets his books.