Adele Wallace and her former sister-in-law Simone Wallace run Sisterhood Bookstore, a small independent women's bookstore in Westwood. Two years ago, Borders Books and Music opened directly across the street from them. Adele Wallace spoke with Alexa Apallas about the challenges that independent bookstores face when they are forced to compete with large chains, and the steps Sisterhood has taken to remain in business.
Our biggest challenge has been the proliferation of the corporate super-chain bookstores, particularly Borders and Barnes & Noble. They're really changing the face of the retail book industry. The chains have caused a lot of independent bookstores to go out of business. We have long-range concerns, because now customers go (to these stores) and there are still lots of choices. But that may be because they are still competing with some independents. There's a concern that once the independents are gone, the selection will become very cookie-cutter. They might stop carrying books from the small presses and obscure authors.
Our sales have been hurt by Borders moving in across the street. We're what's known as a destination store because we are a specialty store, so people would come from far away to shop here. Not as many people come anymore, because the chains can carry a certain number of the more popular titles that we carry. So people can just get them at a chain. That really hurts us, especially if it's a best-selling book. The chains can afford to discount those titles, but we can't. It's really, really hard to get people to come here and buy books.
In order to stay in business and attract more customers, we've had some fund raisers. We had one event at the Skirball Center with speakers like Gloria Steinem, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and City Councilmember Jackie Goldberg. We also had an event with Angela Davis to promote her book "Blues Legacies and Black Feminism. About 600 people came, but we didn't feel a significant increase in customers from it. It used to be that at a book signing, people would buy other books than just the one the author was promoting. That doesn't happen anymore.
We have the support of some instructors at UCLA, and that's been really beneficial to us. There have always been women's studies instructors who have sent their students to buy class reading materials from us, but as we've had more and more problems, we've become more aggressive. We tell instructors that the students like it because they don't have to stand in line for half an hour like at the campus bookstore, it's a chance for their students to see what a women's bookstore is like, and it helps us stay in business. About 40 to 50 instructors per quarter send their students to us. It's hard to say what percentage of sales that is, but it is a significant amount.
We've done more advertising and more mailings to customers and we try to have lots of events for publicity. We also have a Web site in order to attract customers, but the competition online, what with Amazon and Barnes & Noble, is just as tough as in the real world.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.