Thursday, March 26, 2009

Yes We Can

The people have spoken. We campaigned hard and fast during October, marching through perhaps the worst international economic collapse ever. We asked our Friends for money; we promised to be the best we can be, to serve the people, to assemble a visiting “team” of remarkable thinkers and writers who will challenge, inspire and entertain, to expand our services to a downtown location. We sent out emails asking you to become Friends of Left Bank Books. We invited old Friends to re-up more generously. A couple of weeks after the stock market collapsed, we held a fundraiser with the generous help of our landlord Peter Rothschild and our friends at Duff’s. The results? Nearly one hundred of you responded. We raised almost $14,000!
This vote of confidence was much more than a “bailout”--although it certainly secured our immediate future—it was a huge boost to our battle-sore spirits. Not only did folks join the Friends at generous levels, other folks did what they could by actually spending some portion of their book budgets at Left Bank Books. You have no idea how important that small act is.
Earlier this year we wondered if we could or should keep going. Thanks to your amazing response we don’t wonder if we can. Now we say, “yes we can!” This feels historical. We’re looking to the future, daring to hope for something better. These numbers shatter the “Borders” effect. We see a bright time in literary St. Louis, a St. Louis that not only sees the value in an independent bookstore, it deserves an independent bookstore. It demands an independent bookstore. You demand an independent bookstore! You shall have one.
To be sure, it didn’t look likely. Retail sales in October were the worst in 39 years, according to the ICSC-Goldman-Sachs index. Major retailers reported declines of 10 percent or more. The giant sucking sound in the economy has people preparing for or already in the middle of the worst. What’s odd about this is that while October certainly wasn’t our best month ever, it wasn’t our worst month, either. In fact, thanks to you, our gross income was slightly above last October! If you adjust for the Friends memberships, our book sales were actually down about 11%, echoing the national figures. But since we are booksellers, we consider this business as usual. We’re used to tough times. We know how to hold our breath.
We have no way of knowing what the future brings. We prepare to open our downtown store in cooperation with developer Craig Heller. We continue to make upgrades to our Central West End location so that we can serve 21st century customers in 21st century ways. We will not, as the auto makers have, ask the president-elect to save us from our profligate ways, mostly because our ways have never been profligate, but also because, as independent booksellers, as operators of a small business on Main Street America, that’s simply not what we do. The vertebrae of this country’s economic stability are its small businesses. We don’t normally going around picking your pocket with one hand and asking for a handout with the other.
But even though we don’t know what the future brings, we are willing to take the risk. You’ve asked us to. Thank you, readers, book buyers, and cultural citizens of St. Louis, for voting for Left Bank Books. We don’t take your vote lightly. This next year will not be easy and it will take all of us. We know that cash is short, that times are uncertain. We also know that there are some dozen chain bookstores in the metro area, and a sizeable number of boxes with the A-word on them being delivered to St. Louis doorsteps. They’re opening their doors and selling millions of dollars of books to St. Louisans. Then they’re taking the profits out of town. All we ask is that the next time you do have a few dollars to spend on books, you come to us, or any other locally-owned bookstore for that matter, when you spend them. That’s all. Even a fraction of a percent of the sales going to those chain stores and that online usurper of local economies would make a huge difference. A sustainable difference. But you already knew that.
A final note of hope: the 44th president of the United States is not only a voracious reader, he’s a member of the 57th Street Books/Seminary Coop bookstore in Chicago. He supports his local bookstore and see where it got him? Yes we can, St Louis!

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