The end of this summer will mark the end of my current career and venture; The Wise Owl Bookstore will close on August 30th, 2013. It’s a very bittersweet time for me: the store was self-sustaining for the most part, but there wasn’t enough profit to support my own bills and rent. Plus, for the past half-a-year I’ve been missing academia — my time at Kutztown University was wonderful and informative and I have long wanted to return to seek my Masters.
I applied to the Kutztown English Grad Program in March and was accepted, and at that point I still felt like I could make a go of both school and the store, although the hours would obviously have to be shortened. Then, I was accepted as a graduate assistant, a tutor in the Writing Center, a job which requires 20 hours a week in exchange for a tuition waver and a stipend (in addition to 9 credit hours, or three classes, per semester). Suddenly the store was looking less and less viable. Add to that the inevitable slack in business that comes after the holidays and before beach reading time really sets in and I was torn: continue to try to keep the store alive, albeit probably only on the weekends and with reduced hours, or close the store and throw myself entirely into college life again. For better or worse, I chose the latter.
It may be a tough time for bookstores all across the world, but I don’t see that as being a main or even major contributor to why I decided to close. I have no other income, so any profits from the store naturally had to go to paying my bills. Book sales fluctuated, but there was definitely a reticence from people towards buying new books, and especially new books at full price. Their idea of the worth of a book has been completely overtaken by Amazon’s very cheap but very monopolizing business model: undersell every book and make up the difference with shipping and the sale of other items.
Make no mistake, the book industry is changing. But I firmly believe bookstores are viable and necessary, and I don’t see them going away anytime soon. Mine will, but others won’t, and the fact that mine becomes a statistic makes me more upset than the fact of it closing in the first place. Books are thriving, and many stores are out there every day kicking butt and making money. Just because mine, personally, did not work out for me doesn’t mean anything about the state of books.
I’m quoted in a Reading Eagle article on the closing as saying “were the economy more hospitable…” I would have kept the store open. Which is partially true, although it was borne more out of a desire to sound succinct and also to end an interview I wasn’t in the mood to give than a thoroughly thought-through statement. Sure, people don’t want to spend a lot of money. Certainly in Berks County this can be true more often than not. Sure, I’m struggling to pay my bills on what I make from the store. And sure, those problems can be chalked up to an inhospitable economy, to some extent. But I made a profit last year and I would venture to say I would have gone on to make one this year, if only marginally. But to throw all my eggs in the ‘cheap human beings’ basket belies the nature of small business, and especially self-owned small businesses with no employees. I took a chance that the shop would support me and itself, and it didn’t. Now I move on and try something new, something that I already know I enjoy, and try to support myself editing or writing or even teaching if I get my PhD. That is a new path and an exciting one and I’m looking forward to it. Onward!