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Expert: Joseph-Beth atypical

Although a well-known bookstore in the South Side just announced plans to close, it’s too soon to write off the independent bookseller, say those in the industry.

Joseph-Beth Booksellers said this week it would close its location at SouthSide Works this month, as well as its bookstore in Charlotte. Both stores are mainly casualties of the sluggish economy, the company said.

“We’re not drawing any conclusions from the Joseph-Beth announcement,” said Meg Smith, spokeswoman for the American Booksellers Association, which represents independent booksellers.

“It’s a tough economy, but we’re also seeing companies that are doing quite well,” she said. The association, in fact, has added 10 member companies to its roster of about 1,400 in the past year.

Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley, for instance, is up 14 percent in revenue year-to-date compared to 2009 levels, said General Manager Maryanne Eichorn.

“We’ve been gaining all year long. October was our best non-holiday month since we reopened in September 2008,” said Eichorn. The 80-year-old store had closed for a total remodeling in 2007.

Smith said many independent booksellers are expanding into new lines of books, diversifying their merchandising mix or opening in different spaces, such as airports.

For example, Penguin often conducts “out-of-store events” to sell books at lectures or children’s theaters, and sponsors four to five book fairs a year in area schools, Eichorn said.

“We have a loyal customer base and work hard to play a role in the community,” she said.

Bradley’s Books doubled its store count this year. The chain based in Blawnox opened four stores around Pittsburgh — in West Mifflin, Uniontown, Washington, Pa., and, most recently, Indiana, Pa. — since April.

The four locations are among the 186 cast off in January by Borders Group Inc. The giant chain, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., operates about 715 bookstores.

“What’s different about us, compared with the big chains, is 90 percent of our inventory comes from publishers’ overstocks or remains,” said Eva Beck, regional manager for Bradley’s. That is, Bradley’s purchases in bulk the books that didn’t immediately sell at the big chains, then sells them at a deep discount.

“We’ll get a book maybe eight months after it comes out and resell it say, at $6.98, instead of $24.95,” Beck said. “And given the state of the economy, people are looking for lower prices.”

Rare, collectible books, for instance, are a tougher sell these days because they are more expensive than those considered general inventory, said Ed Gelblum, whose City Books in the South Side sells both.

“It helps that we sell over the Internet because it extends beyond the local market,” said Gelblum, who has owned and operated the business since 1983. “But generally, business is not good, due to the economy.”


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