Book News & Features
11:29 am
Sat May 3, 2014

One NYC Indie Bookstore Survives By Being Small And Specialized

Originally published on Wed May 28, 2014 3:11 pm

New York City's Posman Books is bucking a trend. Other booksellers — both independents and big chains like Barnes & Noble — are closing stores in Manhattan, but Posman is getting ready to open its fourth store in the city. It's one sign that some independent bookstores are managing to thrive despite the problems that have beset booksellers in recent years.

On a recent day, customers browsing at Posman Books in the Chelsea Market had a variety of needs: One was killing time before work, another was looking for a Mother's Day card, and yet another needed a new sketchbook.

These are pretty typical bookstore customers, says John Mutter, editor-in-chief of Shelf Awareness, an online newsletter about books and publishing. Bookstores can no longer survive on books alone.

"There was an idea in the past that if you had a lot of really good books and put them on the shelves, people would come," Mutter says. "And most booksellers recognized that that doesn't work anymore."

Posman's Chelsea store is one of three that the small independent chain currently operates in Manhattan. The other two are in Grand Central Station and at Rockefeller Center. Each one, says Mutter, caters to a specific market, and that niche marketing is one reason Posman has succeeded where others have failed. The Grand Central store is aimed at commuters; the Rockefeller Center store caters to tourists and travelers; and the Chelsea Market store is filled with cookbooks.

Even in this age of e-books and the convenience of buying online — a market dominated by Amazon — plenty of readers still love browsing through bookstores.

"It's definitely a more intimate shopping experience than what you would get online or at any other large bookstore," says Posman customer Jennifer Huck. "So I do enjoy shopping in the smaller store more. I think people are more willing to help you find what you're looking for, and I think they have a more unique selection of books."

Robert Fader, vice president of Posman Books, says the family-owned business was able to react more nimbly than the big chains like Barnes & Noble to the changes brought on by the growth of online shopping and digital books.

"In five years' time there will be more Posman Books in Manhattan than there will be Barnes & Nobles," he says.

Fader says because Posman stores are small, it's easier for the company to deal with the astronomical rents in New York. He says the closing of the other major chain store, Borders, helped the business because it served as a warning.

"I think it did give the public a strong sense that actually something was up and that you can't expect to have a bookstore in every town," Fader explains. "The public need to support bookstores."

Posman stores do carry a lot of products other than books, but Fader says books will always be their central mission.

"It's really important," he says. "It leads the whole thing. The reason that we're all independent bookstores is because we all have buyers meeting with publishers, looking at catalogs, making those decisions every day about what the stores look like."

Posman's newest store will open in 2015 in Lower Manhattan.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

New York City's Posman Books is bucking a trend. Other booksellers, both independents and big chains, like Barnes and Noble, are closing stores in Manhattan. But Posman is getting ready to open its fourth store. It's one sign that some independent bookstores are managing to thrive, despite the problems that have beset booksellers in recent years. NPR's Lynn Neary has a look at what Posman is doing right.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: These days, a bookstore has to cater to a lot of different needs.

STEWART ALDEN: I had some time to kill before work. So I needed a new daily planner, and I knew that they would have Moleskin at a bookstore.

TARA FATHERGILL: I got a Mother's Day card for my best friend from college who had a baby a year ago. So this is my first Mother's Day card for her.

AARON QUEESAHN: I'm always looking for new sketchbooks, and there's some really cool ones. There's the decomposition books, which are all recycled. I thought that was pretty nifty.

NEARY: Stewart Alden, Aaron Queesahn and Tara Fathergill were among the customers browsing recently at Posman Books, in the Chelsea Market. They're pretty typical bookstore customers, says John Mutter, editor-in-chief of Shelf Awareness, an online newsletter about books and publishing. Bookstores, says Mutter, can no longer survive on books alone.

JOHN MUTTER: There was an idea in the past that, if you had a lot of really good books and put them on the shelves, you know, people would come. And most booksellers recognize that that doesn't work anymore.

NEARY: Posman's Chelsea store is one of three that the small, independent chain currently operates in Manhattan. The other two are in Grand Central Station and at Rockefeller Center. Each one, says Mutter, caters to a specific market, and that niche marketing is one reason Posman has succeeded where others have failed. The Grand Central store, for example, is aimed at commuters. The Rockefeller Center store has a slightly different feel.

MUTTER: It specializes in things that would be of interest to tourists, travelers and office workers. And in the Chelsea Market stores, because it's in the Chelsea Market, it has a lot of cookbooks and chef memoirs and things like that.

NEARY: And even in this age of e-books and the convenience of buying online, a market dominated by Amazon, a lot of readers, like Andrea Rankee, Jennifer Huck and Noel Eisenberg, still love browsing through bookstores.

ANDREA RANKEE: I love books, and I like to see the covers. I like to pick them up and feel them. I get a sense for how long it is. My eyesight's not great, so I like to know how big the print is.

NOEL EISENBERG: I prefer to shop at actual bookstores 'cause they're going the way of the dinosaur. It's actually nice to be able to browse as opposed to have to scroll through webpages.

JENNIFER HUCK: It's definitely a much more intimate shopping experience than what you would get online or at any other large bookstore, so I do tend to enjoy shopping in the smaller store more. I think more people are more willing to help you find what you're looking for. And I think they have a more unique selection of books.

NEARY: The vice president of Posman Books is Robert Fader. He says the family-owned business was able to react more nimbly than the big chains, like Barnes & Noble, to the changes brought on by the growth of online shopping and digital books.

ROBERT FADER: In five years time, there'll be more Posman Books in Manhattan than there will be Barnes and Nobles.

NEARY: Fader says, because their stores are small, it's easier for Posman Books to deal with the astronomical rents in New York. He also says the closing of the other major chain store, Borders, helped their business because it served as a warning.

FADER: And I think it did give the public a strong sense that actually something was up and that you can't expect to have a bookstore in every town. You know, the public need to support bookstores.

NEARY: Fader says Posman Books do carry a lot of products other than books, but he says books will always be their central mission.

FADER: Oh, it's really important. It leads the whole thing. The reason that we're all independent bookstores is because we all have buyers meeting with publishers, looking at catalogs, making those decisions every day about what the stores look like.

NEARY: Posman Books newest store will open in 2015 in lower Manhattan. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.