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The Bookman faces closure, as the trade struggles with challenges 

Final chapter

click to enlarge Possibly popping up elsewhere, if the rent’s right. - STACIE GONZALEZ
  • Stacie Gonzalez
  • Possibly popping up elsewhere, if the rent’s right.
After nearly 30 years in business, one of Colorado Springs’ beloved independent bookstores will close on May 31 when its lease expires. The Bookman, located at 3163 W. Colorado Ave., has fallen victim to a big rent hike — a new lease would have cost $4,300 a month (up from $3,900) for their 3,000-square-foot store — and gradually declining sales, co-owner Kelly Klipple, 47, says.

Still, Kelly and her husband and co-owner, Arthur, 42, hope to find a new location, perhaps a commercially zoned house, and keep the store alive. They say they’d definitely have to downsize, and reinvent themselves as an outlet for creatives where poets, artists, and musicians gather as well as local authors and book lovers.

“Our hope is that The Bookman will be around for the rest of our lives, but not like this,” Kelly says.

The Klipples say they feel a strong sense of responsibility to the store’s customers, employees, and even its original owners. They have taken on second jobs to keep the store open.

“It was my husband Arthur’s vision to run a bookstore, so when Eric Verlo, one of the original owners of The Bookman, hired him in 2005, we downsized our lives to make that
happen,” explains Kelly.

Arthur, then 30, devoted himself to his new job for three years, often working seven days a week, before Verlo sold him the store in 2008. Arthur loved the store and the sense of community it helped create for the neighborhood.

But Kelly says that the rapid expansion of online reading sources coupled with the release of the Kindle in late 2007 caught the couple, and the industry, by surprise. Kelly estimates The Bookman’s sales have dropped 50 percent since then. If they can’t find a new location soon, they’ll have to liquidate their inventory.

Independent real estate broker Carolyn Cathey explains that rising rents in Colorado Springs is a supply-and-demand issue.

“Until we have more builders and investors for commercial properties, there will be a tight market,” she says. “We’ve essentially grown accustomed to being in a recession mode with low interest rates and low costs for several years, and now we have a large influx of people moving into the area wanting homes and commercial properties we don’t yet have built. It’s a shock to our system.”

Cathey says that it can often take three to five years after the residential market peaks before commercial building begins. Until then, landlords will continue to charge higher rents.

Combine that with a changing market. According to the American Booksellers Association, retail sales at U.S. bookstores were down by 8.2 percent in December 2017 compared to December 2016, but there was a bright spot: Independent bookstores ended the year with a 2.6 percent increase over 2016.

While a bit surprising, Jim and Mary Ciletti, co-owners of Hooked on Books, with locations at 12 E. Bijou St. and 3918 Maizeland Road, hope the Barnes & Nobles of the world can pull through the slump. The Cilettis say chain stores play an important role: They help authors get the word out about their books. Without them, publishers won’t have a reason to invest in authors and people will gravitate even more to ebooks.

Jim, 74, and Mary, 68, have managed to keep Hooked on Books alive for 36 years, largely by adapting to the change that has overcome their peers. “We used to have a city of 20-plus book stores,” says Mary, “but with the advent of the computer and arrival of large retail and loss-leader stores like Sam’s Club and Costco, who could sell books for less, book sales began to decline. The birth of the Kindle just made things worse.”

Jim and Mary now maintain an online inventory of 15,000 books and, with the help of four different online databases, they are able to offer their books to buyers worldwide all day, every day. “That income,” Jim says, “has been our salvation.”

But Jim and Mary also face rising rents. The lease for their Maizeland store went up 25 percent in 2016, forcing the Cilettis to downsize from 4,800 to 2,400 square-feet. Their lease will renew again in April and they fear another hike.

“I think we will leave if they do that,” Jim says, “we will close the store.”

A recent flood of millennials to Colorado Springs has been credited with invigorating the local retail economy. But don’t tell that to Gretchen Goldberg, owner of Books for You, at 1737 S. Eighth St., who attributes at least some customer loss to the Kindle-loving generation.

Goldberg says ebooks are often just as expensive as regular books but readers “can’t share a favorite book with a Kindle like they can a book in print.”

Minimalism is also hurting her business, she says. “Millennials don’t accumulate things. They’re good customers, but they buy and trade in, which is, to an extent, a customer loss for us.”

Unlike other small bookstores in Colorado Springs, Books for You has managed to avoid a dramatic rent increase. Goldberg’s business has called the same 3,000-square-foot building home since 1989. She feels fortunate to be in an older complex with a long-term lease and an accommodating landlord. “I’ve always wanted to be around books; although, if my landlord changes, things may change for me too.”

Patricia Seator who co-owns Poor Richard’s Books & Gifts, located at 320 N. Tejon St., with her husband, Richard Skorman, says, “We’re stronger than we’ve ever been, but it’s due to the combination of owning our own space and diversifying.”

Seator explains that in 2005, she and Skorman, who is now the president of Colorado Springs City Council, tackled the online sales problem by expanding their inventory. “Gifts and classic bookstore sidelines such as cards, journals and stationery now comprise a little over half of our sales,” she says, adding that creating a homey third space is also a key element to the
success of the 42-year-old business.

“There is an ethic about supporting local businesses,” Seator adds. “The same people often care about purchasing items made locally, in Colorado and the U.S. as well as fair-trade and eco-friendly products. I think this kind of ethic is a part of a lot of the smaller, locally owned bookstores. Like atmosphere, it is something that the large chains don’t do as well.”

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