How is the bookstore business?Let the owner tell you

Let me know if you’ve come across a more passionate book buddy than Auggie Alexis.

This person has a palpable affection for words and those who put words on paper (or computer screens). What made his affection so unusual was that he had long been on the commercial side of the literary scene.

“People think all I do is sit there and read,” he says, laughing at his characteristic laugh. “I’m busy with business and usually read three books at a time, play around with them, then try to find a quiet booth at Louie’s Diner when I can get away for lunch.”

For over 30 years he has owned and operated a charming bookstore called Centuries & Sleuths, originally located in Oak Park and since 2000 at 7419 Madison Street in Forest Park.

He told me some time ago: “When you’re looking for testimonials for yourself or as a gift, it’s good to talk to people; you have the opportunity to read all kinds of books with text, pictures, photos, maps; you don’t have to buy the book to see if it’s what you’re looking for; the atmosphere of the store reinforces your love of books and provides an environment that encourages intelligent discussion of fiction and non-fiction; I’ve seen friendships and even a period that started with a discussion group and developed into The romance of marriage.”

I’ve been worried about him and all the others here lately, they’ve been selling books the old-fashioned way that many people think. Will the pandemic reduce in-store traffic so much that it leads to closures?

That’s not the case, and I’m happy to report… oh, let Auggie tell you: “I’ve actually been very lucky during this pandemic, and 2021 has been my best, most successful year yet. Buy gift certificates for friends and family are fairly stable. There is a desire to read.”

Books, the kind that exists between the covers, have been on my mind lately. This is because a few weeks ago I saw people trotting home with grocery bags because I was amazed by the weight of the cheap books they bought at the Newbury Book Fair.

“Three dollars for a copy of (Mike Roico’s) The Boss,” said Thomas Blackburn, who drove down from Wisconsin, pulling the book out of his bag. “Three dollars!”

Over the years, we’ve all heard dire predictions for bookstores and watched big chains like Borders close their doors. But independent bookstores are all over the area, and their owners are creative and resilient. They can be hopeful. Forbes magazine said earlier this year, “U.S. publishers sold 825.7 million print books in 2021, up 8.9 percent from the previous year.”

Arlene Lynes, who has owned the Read Between the Lynes bookstore in Woodstock since 2005, got to the heart of it early, telling me, “The bookstore helps support the local economy because most booksellers live in the area where they work. place and use local services. The more people who visit and buy from a local bookstore, the more likely it is that the bookseller will learn about them and their preferences, and offer suggestions and reminders about new editions that suit their tastes. Browsing a bookstore leads to discovery, Because while shopping, you might end up seeing something that absolutely appeals to you, or the perfect gift for that special someone. It’s a place to go, especially for kids, and most of it is free , and a favorite writer or a place to be introduced to a new writer.”

Aleksy agrees, saying: “The store is kind of like a community center, not only for Forest Park, but also for writers. Here, we have conversations, not lectures. I know a lot of writers, they’re decent people, always It’s readers eager to meet them and support each other.”

And that’s at its core: Bookstores foster community. Think bistro. Yes, it’s easier and cheaper to drink at home, but what do you miss, even the man or woman sitting on the stool next to you chattering about the weather? The same goes for movies, plays and sporting events. I am a firm believer that they all have to meet our inherent need to engage with people, especially in an increasingly cold and recently locked down world.

Books can provide some kind of magic. As Jerry Seinfeld once so rightly pointed out, “The bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking.”

You can meet thousands of these thinkers and many booksellers at the upcoming Printers Row Lit Fest, held on Dearborn Street south of Ida B. Wells Drive.

I’ve had many adventures and good times there over the years, browsing many, many stalls, buying books and interviewing writers like Jonathan Eig, Studs Terkel, Dan Rather, Karen Abbott, Pete Hamill…it’s a long list .

I know a lot of writers who will be there this year. I have read many of their books and will definitely read more. Writers can write.

While I do prefer reading ink on paper, I have no problem with those who prefer ebooks for various reasons. Readers will read.

rkogan@chicagotribune.com

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