Carmichael’s Bookstore is expecting.
It’s been almost 15 years since the Louisville store’s last growth spurt, when co-owners Carol Besse and Michael Boggs, who had been selling books in the Highlands since 1979, opened their second location on Frankfort Avenue. Now, the independent, locally-owned operation that has so far weathered the storms that have rocked the book industry is opening a dedicated, stand-alone children’s bookstore on Bardstown Road.
The new Carmichael’s Kids will open later this summer at 1313 Bardstown Road, right across Longest Avenue from the Bardstown Road store.
“I’m hoping [to open in] July, but it might be more like early August,” says Bardstown Road store manager Kelly Estep, who is spearheading the children’s store project and will manage both stores when it opens.
Estep says kids’ books make up between 20 and 25 percent of sales across Carmichael’s locations, and if she had more room than the current small stores allow, she knows she could sell more.
“The amount of business that we do in the kids’ section is pretty significant. I can never meet the demand,” she says. “People ask for things all the time that I wish we could have that we don’t have the room for.”
What are they asking for? More of everything – more picture books, more classics, more puzzles and other book-related games that the small stores simply didn’t have room to stock, until now.
“I’ve always felt for years that if we had a little more space, that would be the direction we would want to go,” adds Estep.
The current children’s section at the store on Bardstown at Longest will go away, adding some much-needed breathing room to the tight quarters. The Frankfort Avenue store will retain a children’s section, at least for now. Besse says the two neighborhood stores, though geographically close (they’re a little more than two miles apart), pull customers from different parts of the community, and so both locations have thrived, even as the book-selling business continues to face challenges from Amazon and the surge in e-book popularity.
And that’s a trend the whole country has seen. Large competitors like Barnes and Noble are struggling under the Amazon and Kindle squeeze, but small, independent bookstores are succeeding– Publishers Weekly named the CEO and board of directors of the American Booksellers Association, which represents small bookstores, as the 2013 “Person of the Year” in recognition of the strength of small stores.
Bestselling thriller author James Patterson joined in on the indie love when he announced he’d award $1 million in grants to independent booksellers this year. Carmichael’s just learned earlier this week that their new kids’ store will receive funding through the latest round of Patterson’s grants.
Besse says being right-sized has helped Carmichael’s thrive while rivals like Borders have shuttered their doors across the city.
“People think a big store is going to have more books that you want. But it turns out that we probably have the book that you want in our store,” she says. “And if we don’t have it, the logistics in the book business have improved to much we can probably get it to you in a day or two. It all comes down to selection and customer service and just a cool place to shop.”
And children’s books are even more insulated from the Amazon and e-book threat, says Besse.
“Children’s books are less threatened by those two things. You want to have a book in your hand to read to a child,” she says. “A lot of the books are visual so you want to see it and handle it. There’s also a big gift market in children’s books. If you have a kid you know there’s a birthday party every weekend. Books are a great present.”
The new Carmichael’s Kids will stock books aimed infants up to 12-year-olds. Having a dedicated kids’ store means more room to host children’s book author readings and book-related events and activities aimed at the under-12 set.
Estep says young adult books will remain stocked in the main branches alongside the “adult” books.
“Teenagers probably don’t want to shop at a children’s store,” says Estep. “And there’s so much crossover now with teen fiction and adult that it makes sense.”