Bookstores have been under siege for years, battered by online sellers, big box stores and the emergence of e-readers. They aren’t dead yet, however. And Vivien Jennings, founder and president of Rainy Day Books in Fairway, remains optimistic that bookstores will continue to hold an important place in the community.
Leading the assault against brick-and-mortar bookstores: Amazon. Since it started in 1995, hundreds of bookstores have closed nationally, including nearly 400 Borders stores and 45 Book World outlets.
Locally, five Borders outlets and at least four independent bookstores have closed in the past six years.
Still, there are plenty of survivors. Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million and Half Price Books are national chains with local outlets, and nearly 20 independent bookstores (most of which focus on used books) dot the region.
Jennings, whose Rainy Day is the granddaddy of area independent bookstores, thinks the Amazon impact has plateaued.
“They’ve done all they can with books,” she said. “They came, they pillaged and they moved on. They used books as an entry point because books are easy to order and ship.”
One result has been an overall increase in the sales of print books. They have risen every year since 2013, according to Publishers Weekly, including 1.9 percent last year over 2016. Meanwhile, e-book sales have leveled off.
Of course, Amazon has accounted for nearly all the increased print book sales.
It’s hard to blame book buyers for flocking to the online giant.
When you can click a few times on your laptop or smartphone to order a book and have it delivered to your doorstep — usually at a lower price — why would anybody actually go to a bookstore to buy it?
Well, one reason is so your friendly neighborhood bookstore will still exist next year and the year after.
“People have to know the impact of their decisions,” Jennings said. “If you value what we do, you have to give us your business. I think there is more awareness of that now. … People are coming back to the relationships.”
She thinks the benefits bookstores provide that Amazon can’t — including personal recommendations for book buyers, a place for book clubs to meet and author appearances — matter to people.
Rainy Day has established a national reputation by bringing in best-selling authors for presentations and signings — about 300 events a year, Jennings said. The big-name authors in recent months have included John Grisham, Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush, Dan Brown, Walter Isaacson and Scott Kelly.
The business began on a considerably smaller scale. Jennings started Rainy Day as a tiny recycled-books operation in 1975 in a 450-square-foot building that had been Fairway’s police station and jail. She said she expanded whenever it was feasible financially.
When customers told her they wanted her to sell new books, Rainy Day started selling new books. When they said they wanted a place for book clubs to meet, she discontinued used-book sales and turned that space into a meeting area.
Now Rainy Day is one of the nation’s leading independent booksellers, going toe-to-toe with Barnes & Noble by selling only new books.
Several other independents have expanded beyond books to help draw customers.
Cowley Distributing of Jefferson City operates eight outlets selling new books in Missouri (as well as one in Quincy, Ill.), including Reader’s World stores in Warrensburg and Sedalia. All but two of those stores also sell toys.
“The kind of toys we sell aren’t the kind you’d find at Wal-Mart or other big-box stores,” said Jerry Cowley, manager of retail operations for the family business. “It’s a nice shot in the arm for sales during Christmas.”
The strategy couldn’t save the Reader’s World store in Lee’s Summit, however. It closed last year because of insufficient sales, Cowley said.
He points out that Amazon and other online retailers have hurt bookstores beyond siphoning off book sales. As the public has opted to buy goods online, department stores such as Sears and J.C. Penney have lost customers and closed outlets. That in turn means less traffic for bookstores that rely on the department stores in malls and other areas to attract customers.
“There’s no doubt Amazon has had an impact on all bookstores, and on other businesses,” Cowley said.
But, like Jennings, he isn’t giving up the fight. He even said he’d like to open another store in the Kansas City area if he could find the right location.
As for Rainy Day Books, it has been around for more than 40 years, and Jennings doesn’t see it going anywhere anytime soon.
“I think the outlook is optimistic,” she said. “People are realizing we’re a place for them, a community space. … We have really good support from the community, and I feel positive about that.”
Meanwhile, she has one more Amazon threat to consider: It has opened 13 brick-and-mortar bookstores in the past couple of years, with three more on the way.
(Faith-oriented and school-related bookstores not included)
Rainy Day Books
Info: 2706 W. 53rd, Fairway. rainydaybooks.com, 913-384-3126
Comment: Independent bookseller since 1975 sponsors dozens of author events each year.
Raven Book Store
Info: 6 E. Seventh, Lawrence. ravenbookstore.com, 785-749-3300
Comment: Provides reading events and book groups.
Info: 503 N. Maguire, Warrensburg. bookandtoy.net, 660-362-0879
Comment: Also has a selection of toys.
3 Wishes — Books, Art, Music
Comment: Not to be confused with online lingerie shop at 3wishes.com
Info: 241 S.E. Main, Lee’s Summit. facebook.com/kds-books-135572224580, 816-525-1366
Comment: Children’s books and toys as well as used books.
River Reader Bookstore
Info: 1010 Main, Lexington. river-reader.com, 660-259-4996
Comment: Emphasis on children’s and history books; also, toys, coffee and cooking classes.
White Light Bookstore and Crystals
Info: 1801 W. 39th. whitelightbookstore.com, 816-931-0116
Comment: New age, spiritual and metaphysical materials.
One more to look forward to
Afterword Tavern & Shelves
Info: 10416 E. 63rd, Raytown. anastasiasbookskc.com, 816-356-8300
Comment: Wide variety of used books
The Book Barn
Info: 410 Delaware, Leavenworth. abookbarn.com, 913-682-6518
Comment: Located in building that housed first funeral parlor in Kansas.
Info: 1908 N. Belt Highway, St. Joseph. facebook.com/booksrevisted, 816-205-7125
Comment: Operated by Friends of the Rolling Hills Library to raise funds for library.
The Dusty Bookshelf
Info: 708 Massachusetts, Lawrence. thedustybookshelf.com, 785-749-4643
Comment: Also has store in Manhattan (temporarily closed).
Inklings’ Books & Coffee Shoppe
Info: 1101 W. Main, Blue Springs. inklingsbookscoffee.net, 816-224-9082
Comment: Some new books focusing on regional history; coffee shop downstairs.
Info: 1800 W. 39th. facebook.com/prosperosbookstore, 816-531-9673
Comment: Also CDs, DVDs and vinyl; occasional live music and readings.
Read It Again Books
Info: 1111 S. Broadway, Oak Grove. facebook.com/read-it-again-books-104914452874960, 816-690-5660
Comment: Shelves stacked with old books in downtown Oak Grove.
Info: 109 Wyoming, Pleasant Hill. facebook.com/recycled-reading-176107032578878, 816-987-2608
Comment: Senior discount on Thursdays.
Steel’s Used Books
Info: 214 E. 18th Ave., North Kansas City. steelsbooks.com, 816-300-2665
Comment: Focuses on Christian books, but also hard-to-find and rare books.
Info: 2105 Plaza Drive, Harrisonville. facebook.com/the-thrifty-reader-book-store-339355704184, 816-884-5112
Comment: Small store crammed with books.
Info: 1734 E. 63rd. facebook.com/willasbooks, 816-419-1051
Comment: Website boasts of collection of yearbooks from area high schools.
Chains with local stores
Barnes & Noble
Country Club Plaza, 816-753-1313
Independence Commons, 816-795-9878
Oak Park Mall, 913-492-8187
Town Center Plaza, 913-491-4535
Zona Rosa, 816-505-3355
Legends Outlets, 913-299-1778
Half Price Books
1002 Westport, 816-931-5377
20000 E. Jackson, Independence, 816-795-7558
8997 Metcalf, Overland Park. 913-383-3373
15309 W. 119th, Olathe, 913-829-9959