How to Save the Bookstore

Author Ann Patchett returned independent bookselling to Nashville—and has some tips for the rest of America's bibliophiles

By Emily Gravlin November 1, 2013 Published in the November 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

When author Ann Patchett’s hometown of Nashville lost its last bookstore, she made a snap decision: she would open a new one herself. The first year, sales at Parnassus Books doubled her expectations. This year, sales are 27 percent higher. 

“It’s been a real redemption tale for the city,” the novelist says. “When cities lose their independent pharmacy or hardware store or movie theater or bookstore, they don’t get those things back.”

For Portland—a city that considers Powell’s a national landmark—Patchett’s success provides hope. This month, Patchett arrives at the Schnitz to talk about her new book,  This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, and how to open a truly great bookstore in the Amazon age:

1. Make it a town square: With 225 events a year, Patchett’s store offers plenty of inspiration and education. “A bookstore is a community center, a place to go with your family, a place to hang out with other readers.”

2. Create a vibrant children’s section: Kids can drive sales. Parnassus’s kids’ section is gated by a dreamy replica of the Parthenon created by Patchett’s brother-in-law. A crown of punched-paper-star lanterns dangles from the ceiling. 

3. Make it exclusive: Parnassus’s First Editions Club sends signed copies of handpicked books to about 250 members each month. (Patchett recalls the time her novel State of Wonder was selected for a similar club at Powell’s, saying, “It’s like winning the lottery!”)

4. Go mobile: Travel and bookselling go hand in hand. So Patchett and  co-owner Karen Hayes are planning “Parnassus on Wheels,” a mobile book truck (and the title of a 1917 novel about booksellers by Christopher Morley). Powell’s, are you listening?

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