Looking back at all the shopping I’ve done in the past year alone, I can say most of it has been done online, usually while I’m lounging around the house in my guacamole-stained college basketball shorts and a t-shirt. I happen to be one of many who take advantage of our modern society, in which practically anything you can imagine can be summoned on your phone from the comfort of your recliner and shipped to you, sometimes in a matter of a few hours. So why bother dressing to impress?
If you’re anything like me – a fresh-out-of-college twentysomething – this is your world. The rapid advance of technology doesn’t appear to be helping the concept of your friendly neighborhood mom-and-pop shop peddling Spider-Man graphic novels or Hunger Games books.
From the perspective of a former college bookstore employee, the idea of driving to a bookstore (after finding one) seems way less convenient than pulling out your phone, selecting a book, and having it delivered by Amazon Prime Now in under two hours. The growing popularity of online retail, however, hasn’t stopped James Stevens and Michelle Brown from officially opening their independent brick-and-mortar bookstore. They opened the Fort Worth Restaurant for the Mind in Saginaw a couple of weeks ago. Though husband and wife both lack experience running a retail establishment, Stevens, who’s currently an electrical project manager, did own and operate a moving company.
As appealing as it may be, the small (1,825 square-foot) bookstore’s quirky family vibe could be doomed. The number of independent bookstores in the United States has dropped at least 50 percent over the last two decades, and less than 10 percent of book sales come from independent bookstores, according to a 2014 Forbes article.
The fact that even my 75-year-old granny, whom I live with, proudly downloads books on her bright-red Nook e-reader suggests that online retail may be changing the way we read. This trend is nothing new, either – 500 independent bookstores closed between 2002 and 2011, according to Open Education Database, an online education directory.
So how does Fort Worth Restaurant for the Mind plan to survive? The answer: evolution in business practices.
Brown, a former fourth-grade reading teacher for the Lake Worth school district, explained their strategy.
“We are really looking at integrating some programming to support literacy in our community, not just sell books,” Brown said. “We’ve got children’s story time, author signings, poetry nights, and book clubs planned.”
She enjoyed bringing her love of reading to her classrooms and hopes to spread that love of reading to the community through her shop. It dawned on me, being a digital nomad, that I’ve traded away the luxury of basic services – coffee, conversation, book discussions, author exchanges – for instant gratification. Surely, I’m not alone.
The storefront, sandwiched between a Metro PCS and World Finance Loans and Taxes, was heavily modeled after Brown and Stevens’ favorite independent shop, the Near Southside bookstore The Last Word. It closed in June.
“We were so sad to hear that news because [Stevens] and I enjoyed going in there,” Brown said. “The Last Word sold only new books. We are hoping that our slightly different model of new and used books will be just what readers in our area are looking for.”
Their bookshelves are divided into three sections. The fiction section, signified by a vintage typewriter at the end of the aisle cap, relies heavily on gritty material, including Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, with some noir, SF, lighter stuff, and literary fiction (Morrison, Pynchon) sprinkled into the mix. Nonfiction, located against a wall decorated with historical maps, is filled with biographies and histories. And the youth section features YA hits like The Hunger Games.
Restaurant of the Mind also carries local authors.
Brown said their local section is “small but expanding –– supporting those in the community where we live and work is important to us.”
Even offering new and used titles, their selection is nowhere near as massive as what you might find at Barnes & Noble or Half Price Books at this point. However, there is a charm to the smaller atmosphere they’ve cultivated. They sold me a used copy of The League of Regrettable Superheroes, a book about dozens of failed comic book characters throughout the years, for only seven bucks, which goes to show that their small selection offered me something I wouldn’t have even known to search for online.
Brown and Stevens pointed out that to them it’s not just about the money. It’s about the dream of bringing a shared passion for the printed word back to the community through their love of books.
“I think that people are still interested in reading and holding real books and that’s something you just can’t do while reading online,” Brown said. “We love the idea of giving people an opportunity to discuss the literature that they are enjoying.”
Fort Worth Restaurant for the Mind has a lot of competition, based on the statistics and online trends. I’m hopeful for the little guy, though. Competition or not, offering things that online retail can’t –– such as the ability to talk with actual people in a real setting about your new book on oddball superheroes or slightly more grown-up literature while drinking a damn good cup of locally brewed coffee –– is a good place to start l