The Book Merchant, Natchitoches, Louisiana

In Jennifer Miller’s article “Novel Ideas” in the September 2011 issue of Fast Company, she reports that 400 new independent bookstores have opened in the past six years. How do they all compete with Barnes and Nobles, Amazon, and e-books?
J. Michael Kenny has been working hard to answer that question. Twelve years ago, Kenny opened The Book Merchant, a small bookshop in the quaint historic college town of Natchitoches (pronounced NACK-uh-dish) in northwest Louisiana.

“Last February, I changed my shop,” says Kenny, scratching the ears of Princess, one of two friendly shop cats. He removed much of his book inventory, making room for art, antiques, and gardening novelties. His shelves now reflect what his customers look for; books on genealogy, Creole history, and assorted Louisiana topics. “I’m not a best-seller bookstore. I tried to make this a literary bookshop when I came here twelve years ago,” Kenny laments.  “I quickly learned my lesson.” He also sells cookbooks, children’s books, CDs, magazines, and postcards. His clientele consists primarily of tourists on the weekends and locals during the week.

To stay relevant and competitive, Kenny focuses on what he considers to be his biggest asset . . . personal customer service. “I’m here,” he says, smiling. He’s available and talks to people about books, not only in his shop, but anywhere out and about town, in restaurants, the grocery store. People will stop and ask him what he thinks of certain books or what they should be reading. He advises his customers, orders requests, and gives discounts to frequent buyers and cash-strapped students. He also hosts events such as book signings, promotions, CD release parties, and readings. And he always serves refreshments.

“The market is changing,” says Kenny.  “I’m happy to see independents are still out there. They’re working hard, but they’re also working smarter.”

Do you have a favorite little bookshop? How do you support local independent booksellers?

Angie Dilmore

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