Tuesday, September 2, 2008

An Open Letter to Booklovers

The rumors are true. Left Bank Books is opening a bookstore downtown. It will be a second location, which is backed in full by downtown developer Craig Heller. Without his backing, a downtown Left Bank Books would not have happened. It’s a 3-year agreement and if things go well, we will purchase the store from Craig. We will continue to operate our main store in the Central West End. Both stores will carry similar inventories and offer author events. We are busily at work making arrangements for the downtown store, which we hope to open by the end of November.

The downtown store is part of a long-term strategy to re-invigorate Left Bank Books, which has suffered not only the downturn in the economy that affects everyone, but has had to battle the unequal playing field created by Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.com. (How that playing field is unequal is an article in itself.) If even a tiny percent of St. Louisans who buy books anywhere else would buy them through Left Bank Books instead, the future of our store would be secured. It’s not about shelling out more, it’s about changing existing spending habits.

As it now stands, we are anything but secure. We struggle constantly with a cash flow that depends largely on smoke and mirrors. As the cost of doing business rises and sales do not, Left Bank workers—and here I must ask you to picture your favorite Left Banker—live on an unworkably low wage. Owners do as well. Burnout is a constant danger. It becomes harder and harder to stock the store as we envision it, and harder, therefore, to serve the community we love.

But we are also absolutely committed to keeping Left Bank Books open and thriving. To that end, we are unfolding our bold plan to build a sustainable future for Left Bank Books. The downtown store is only a part of our plan. A sustainable Left Bank Books begins in the Central West End. As we enter our 40th year and contemplate the un-viability of doing business as usual, the first phase of our bold new plan involved you. We are sending out a plea to our friends, neighbors and customers to support our store. Here are seven things you can do that won’t cost you anything. (And one that will.)
1. Buy books from Left Bank Books
We are not asking you to buy more books than you already do. We are asking you to buy them from Left Bank Books.
2. St. Louis out of Amazon.com
Click through to http://www.left-bank.com/ instead of Amazon. Not only would you be supporting Left Bank Books, you’d be supporting your local tax base as well. No dollar spent on Amazon ever gets recycled into your police, schools, roads, local government, public services, etc. And when is the last time you attended an author event sponsored by Amazon?
3. Friends don’t let friends shop at chain stores.
The next time you hear someone say they’re headed to Barnes & Noble, or they’ll “get it on Amazon”, why not suggest Left Bank instead? Dare to be influential. It works! Remind them that the next time they want to see Chuck Palahniuk or Anne Lamott or even Hillary Clinton, they might not want to drive to Chicago to do so.
4. Give Left Bank gift certificates as gifts
Actually they are Booksense gift certificates, soon to be Indiebound gift certificates, and they’re redeemable at over a thousand independent bookstores nationwide. They are also redeemable on our website. www.left-bank.com
5. Give your corporate and institutional book business to Left Bank Books
We have very competitive discounts, offer free delivery, and personal service. Plus your organization can feel good about supporting a locally-owned store. kris@left-bank.com
6. Link your website to ours and make money!
Affiliate your website with ours and earn money on every purchase made via click-throughs from your site to ours. Schools and not-for-profits don’t have to send your purchases out of state. You’ll earn a higher percent than you will from that other place, too. http://www.left-bank.com/, click on the affiliate link.
7. Join or renew your membership in the Friends of Left Bank Books
Ok, this might cost you $35 (more if you can) up front, but if you spend $140 at either of our two Friends-only 25% off sales a year, you will break even. http://www.left-bank.com/ Click on the Friends link, or stop by and sign up.
8. Got more to invest in a sustainable future for Left Bank Books?
Left Bank Books is planning a major fundraiser in October to generate much needed capital which will enable us to retire old debt from publishers, upgrade our badly out of date inventory control system and re-work our store to serve you better. We invite anyone with more resources and a commitment to a sustainable, world-class literary center in St. Louis, should contact us immediately. kris@left-bank.com, 314.367.6731

In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, Clarence shows George what his community would have been like had he never existed. If Left Bank Books had never existed, St. Louis would have missed out on thousands of visits by authors ranging from first-time novelists and obscure poets to judges, princesses, nobel laureates, and presidents. It would have missed out on a store committed to Women’s Gay, and African American studies sections since the 1970s. St. Louisans would have had few places to turn for given publishing advice, coming out advice, and reading advice. Ailing neighbors would have gone without hand-delivered books. There are at least a couple of school libraries that would have had no help in creating and stocking their shelves. Local causes would have missed out on hundreds of book donations. Dozens more would have lacked author event programming and a portion of our proceeds on those booksales. The careers of some major artists may have turned out differently without starter shows in our gallery. What would Euclid and McPherson be without a Left Bank Books for its Duff’s? But most important, without Left Bank Books, St. Louis would have a huge hole in its cultural fabric. The public conversation, the availability of texts, whether poetical or polemical, the relationship of reader to writer to bookseller, all those indefinable but essential qualities of a life lived in the company of books, would be vapor, pure concept, had we never existed.
To the choir out there, thank you for bearing with me. And to the rest of you, I ask you to imagine a future with Left Bank Books and help us make it a reality.