Just as Barnes & Noble is announcing layoffs and lackluster holiday sales, a new Half Price Books Outlet is making itself at home in Waco, two independently owned book shops are reporting brisk sales and a third is being established.
Such is the state of the book business, as big-name chains struggle for market share against the likes of Walmart and Amazon, while mom-and-pop shops are holding their own and then some, according to industry observers.
The Christmas season told a sad story for Barnes & Noble, which saw sales decline 6.4 percent in December compared to the same month last year, according to a company press release. That prompted the retailer to announce layoffs in a move meant to save the company $40 million.
Barnes & Noble would not comment on job losses at specific stores or the total number of layoffs.
The Barnes & Noble at Waco and Lake Air drives reportedly did not escape the purge unscathed, though the manager of the store would not comment, referring all questions to the corporate headquarters.
“The company has been reviewing all aspects of the business, including our labor model,” officials said in an email response to questions from the Tribune-Herald. “Given our sales decline this holiday, we’re adjusting staffing so that it meets the needs of our existing business and our customers. As the business improves, we’ll adjust accordingly. … We want to assure our customers that this will not affect our commitment to customer service.”
This is not Barnes & Noble’s first stab at belt-tightening. It announced in 2013 it would close 20 stores a year for 10 years.
The same year, Books-A-Million closed its store at Central Texas Marketplace after an eight-year run. The store was not performing up to expectations, a spokeswoman for the Alabama-based company told the Tribune-Herald at the time.
In 2016, the Hastings Multimedia Supercenter in Waco, whose inventory included books and magazines, closed its doors amid a Chapter 11 bankrupty filing by its Amarillo-based parent company.
Donna Carroll, owner of Golden’s Book Exchange on Franklin Avenue, said she finds no joy in watching these potential rivals struggle.
“I’m hearing from people who are disappointed when they walk into the Barnes & Noble here. The inventory is not what they expect, and they feel as if the store would prefer they order online,” Carroll said. “It’s very sad what’s happening. Places like Waldenbooks, Borders, Books-A-Million, they are all gone. Half Price Books has returned, but it’s not like it was.”
Dallas-based Half Price Books opened a 12,000-square-foot store late last year in the shopping center at Waco and Valley Mills drives.
Carroll said her business is “fine,” and regulars continue to keep Golden’s in the black after 40 years. She said visits to her establishment have become family affairs involving three generations.
“We have more of the unusual books, titles people want to begin a library with,” Carroll said. “We’re seeing more Baylor University students, as well as people who bought the latest work from a popular author at Barnes & Noble and now want the other 22 books he or she wrote.”
She offers tens of thousands of titles “spread over a 3,000-square-foot store with small aisles,” she said with a laugh. “I have people come in who say they love the smell of the place. And our reading is very affordable. Stuff we can’t sell, we place in a cart out front and offer it free to the public. We’d rather do that than send it to the landfill. We fill that cart twice a day.”
Christina Morrow, owner of Brazos Books, 1412 N. Valley Mills Drive, said her 25-year-old store that sells used books is recovering nicely from a challenging period in recent years, as readers pursued buying options elsewhere.
“The holiday season was good, great compared to a couple of years before that,” Morrow said.
Dan Cullen, senior strategy officer for the American Booksellers Association, a trade organization, said trends in Waco reflect national trends.
He provided statistics showing that book sales at independent stores grew almost 8 percent in the United States during 2012. Growth has continued each year since then, hitting just under 5 percent in 2016 and 2.6 percent last year, reflecting a compound annual growth rate of 5.4 percent, Cullen said.
The number of independent options locally soon will increase, with plans by Alison Frenzel and Kimberly Batson to open Fabled Bookstore and Cafe at 215 S. Fourth St.