In the age of Amazon and online shopping, brick-and-mortar booksellers are on their way out. Or, at least, that seems to be the narrative played up by the media. With major retailers like Borders and numerous smaller independent shops around the country calling it quits, the death of community bookstores is a narrative that makes sense.
That is, at least, until it doesn’t.
Meet Christin Evans, a small-business owner and entrepreneur who set out to change that narrative. As booksellers close their doors left and right, Christin made serious strides in expanding her two San Francisco-based bookstores in 2018 — a feat nothing short of remarkable.
From Corporate to Community
Let’s rewind for a moment. In 2007, Christin and her husband, Praveen Madan, bought out a small San Francisco bookseller, The Booksmith. Christin bought the store after quitting her high-stress corporate job with a major global management consulting firm. She wanted to pursue something more fulfilling.
While owning her own bookstore might sound like a fulfilling career change on a personal level, you might ask, “Was it a practical career change?” With brick-and-mortar bookstores closing left and right, it’s one risky business to go into. But with big risk, the reward is sometimes more than worth it
In 2012, the couple bought out a second bookseller in San Francisco: Kepler’s Books. Clearly, Christin and Praveen had found success in the realm of book retail — but how? Well, it all came down to their vision of “reinventing the bookstore in the 21st century.” When you have the shadow of Amazon looming over you 24/7, reinventing the brick-and-mortar bookstore is no easy task. Conventional thinking must be thrown out the window. So that’s what Christin did.
A Positive Influence
First and foremost, Christin knew she needed to be a positive influence in her community. It’s something a lot of businesses can learn from, especially brick-and-mortar businesses. Making a constructive change is necessary if you want people to notice you. When you make waves in your community, people look up, and they look to you.
Christin and Praveen’s top priority was to make The Booksmith and Kepler’s Books staples within the community and become ingrained in the consciousness of their surrounding San Francisco neighborhoods.
That meant the couple had to do what others bookstores weren’t doing. “Our business plan has always been to do everything that big-box retailers can’t or won’t do,” Christin says. “We strive to create a welcoming space for our community to come together.” When community is everything, you need something that brings the people to you: events.
The Big Event
That simple concept is how Christin reinvented the bookstore. Or at least, it’s one of the ways she reinvented it. At both The Booksmith and Kepler’s Books, you’ll find an ongoing calendar of events. There is always something going on. It’s all about customer and community engagement. There are virtually no gaps in the calendar
For instance, the shops hold regular “silent readings.” This is an opportunity for folks to come in and just read while enjoying freshly made cocktails and other drinks. It’s relaxing, simple, and fun. On other nights, you’ll find musicians playing their experimental riffs.
And it doesn’t end there. The shops also host mom yoga, book swaps, book clubs and discussion groups, author readings, and author meet-and-greets. The list goes on. Christin and her team at both shops are willing to try new things to find what works. They keep a sharp eye on which events bring people in and foster an even greater sense of community.
Last year, The Booksmith underwent something of an expansion. About a block from the store, Christin bought a bar and café called the Alembic that had space for events. Christin and Praveen are so dedicated to community events that they are willing to devote an entire separate space to it. The two existing bookstores simply aren’t enough to meet local demand.
And that’s not all. The couple also helped establish Kepler’s Literary Foundation, an organization that “enriches the community through literary and cultural programs that feature notable writers, artists, and original thinkers.” These programs foster creativity and learning within the community, and they cultivate excitement about reading and exploring new avenues of expression.
Christin and Praveen also bought a company called GiftLit, which they incorporated into their bookstores. Like The Booksmith and Kepler’s Books, GiftLit was established in San Francisco and had already made a name for itself in the area.
GiftLit, a subscription box service, allows you to gift a book to someone special every month. Behind the scenes, the GiftLit team curates every book they send out — an aspect of the business they take very seriously. After all, they have a team of librarians, educators, authors, and booksellers ensuring each recipient will connect with and enjoy the titles they are gifted.
With such an incredible focus on community, Christin and her bookstores thrive in the age of Amazon. While the major online retailer can deliver books to your doorstep on a whim, they cannot offer you a mimosa between chapters or introduce you to neighbors who have the same taste in literature. In short, no big-box retailer — not even Amazon — can compete with community.