Last week's announcement that Amazon is opening a brick-and-mortar store in Lakeview ruffled more than a few feathers. Chief among the cries of dissent were those who represent the city's small but thriving community of independent bookstores—and with good reason. Since Amazon became the online retailer of choice for millions of Americans, independent booksellers have had to work harder to bring customers into their stores and avoid becoming a place where guests simply “window shop” for books that they'll later purchase online.
Chicago's independent bookstores are already banding together to face the realities of Amazon's physical Chicago store head on. Thursday morning, a coalition of 17 local stores issued a joint press release outlining the ways in which Amazon has hurt small businesses, dodged paying taxes and decreased the number of available retail jobs. The release cited a recent study called “Amazon and Empty Storefronts” which was co-sponsored by the American Booksellers Association and the research firm Civic Economics. It claims that Amazon sold more than $1.8 billion worth of goods in Illinois in 2016, the equivalent of 1,289 retail storefronts and an estimated 4.5 million square feet of commercial space. Civic Economics estimates that those shops could have generated $23.6 million in property taxes, more than $59.8 million in state and local revenue and provided 7,802 retail jobs in Illinois.
Sarah Hollenbeck, co-owner of Women & Children First in Andersonville (that's its window display pictured above), also highlights the ways in which indie bookstores strive to provide a place for members of the community to gather by hosting events and inviting local authors to speak. “Events held in our stores strengthen community bonds, as well as provide safe spaces where people can meet, share ideas, and debate issues,” Hollenbeck says. The first (and currently, only) Amazon Books store located in Seattle, Washington does not appear to host any type of community events or appearances by authors.
When Amazon Books opens next year, it will bring its competitive pricing and user recommendations to the streets of Chicago, but the city's indie booksellers believe that their customer-focused philosophy will prevail. “People are coming together here around book clubs, author events, story times, and great spontaneous discussions about obscure books,” says Teresa Kirschbraun of City Lit Books in Logan Square. “The independent bookstore will survive because people are looking for opportunities that cannot be found in a business based on algorithms.”