ticularly the advent of Amazon,
which began selling books online in 1995. New York-based
Barnes & Noble is the last of
the big bookstore chains, with
649 retail stores remaining, including 24 in New Jersey. Its
former closest competitor, Borders, which once had more than
1, 200 stores, is defunct.
Independent bookstores have
also taken it on the chin in the
digital age, with many stores
going under, but data from the
American Booksellers’ Association, a trade group representing indie booksellers, indicate
something of a resurgence in
recent years. In fact, says ABA
senior strategy officer Dan Cullen, membership in the group
has been growing since 2009.
“New stores are opening, established stores are finding new
owners and a new generation is
coming into the business,” says
Cullen. Book sales in independent U.S. stores grew almost 8
percent in 2012 over the previous year, according to the ABA.
The trend continued in 2014, and
sales this year have, so far, outpaced 2014.
The ABA has 44 New Jersey members—but that number includes newsstands and niche stores, like bible retailers. Cullen can’t reliably say how many
general-interest indie stores remain in
New Jersey; a Google scouring turns up
And while the numbers are encouraging, book retailing is still a rough road.
Stores that survive the trek generally
share the same formula: Be resilient, and
pay attention your customers’ needs.
“We’ve kind of danced around every
shift in the wind,” says Margot Sage-EL,
owner of Watchung Booksellers. The
Montclair shop, which Sage-EL took
over from a previous owner in 1996, is
a rock star among bookstores, if such an
un-bookish metaphor can be applied.
It regularly holds readings and forums
so big they can’t fit in the 1,200-square-
foot store. Literary luminaries like Junot
Diaz, Colum McCann and James McBride are among those who have attracted overflow crowds. Stephen Colbert
and Julie Andrews each brought in about
300 people. Crowds that size have led to
a partnership with the Montclair Public
Library and other spaces around town.
“They have the space and we don’t,” says
At the library, former astronaut Buzz
Aldrin, who grew up in Montclair,
brought in more than 500 people in 2011;
the ballerina Misty Copeland delivered
an audience of 600 for an event at the
Mount Hebron Middle School in March.
Sage-EL added some elbow room last
summer, when she and the owners of the
Tiny Elephant, the café next door, agreed
to knock down the wall that separated
the two businesses. Now book browsers can sip lattes in the 10-table café,
and latte sippers can wander into the
bookstore. “It’s a bit fluid,” says Sage-EL.
“We use their space and they use ours as
needed for special events.”
JACOBS AND HER LITTLE CITY
co-founders turned to Sage-EL for advice
before opening their doors. “She was
definitely someone we wanted to model
ourselves on,” Jacobs says.
Sage-EL attributes her good fortune
to Montclair’s community of literary
types and culture mavens. “We have
so many writers in town,” she says. But
even a built-in population of authors and
bibliophiles is no bulwark against the In-
A select list of New Jersey independent
bookstores based on the voting in our most
recent Jersey Choice/Best of Jersey poll.
Montclair Book Center and Town Book Store
in Westfield, below, topped the poll.
210 North High Street
1052 Asbury Avenue
211 East Ridgewood
171 Main Street
99 Claremont Road
Califon Book Shop
72 Main Street,
8 Green Village Road
Clinton Book Shop
12 East Main Street
122 Nassau Street
Little City Books
100 Bloomfield Street
Montclair Book Center
221 Glenridge Avenue
River Road Books
759 River Road
Shaw’s Book Shop
79 Westwood Avenue
29 Center Street
Town Book Store
270 East Broad Street
425 Lafayette Avenue
54 Fairfield Street
Words! Asbury Park
623 Cookman Avenue
179 Maplewood Avenue
12 Washington Street
PAGE TURNER: Wood Robinson, owner of Ocean
City’s Bookateria Two, stocks plenty of beach
reading for his flip-flop wearing customers.