If you’re looking for some good business-building books to read this summer, who better to ask than bookstore owners? Successful independent bookstore owners are simultaneously devoted readers and the proprietors of small businesses. Here, they share the titles that helped propel their stores to the top of the heap. So put down the murder mystery and supplement your summer reading with one of their beloved, informative tomes.


Bookstore: Basically Books

Owner: Christine Reed

Location: Hilo, Hawaii

In Business: Basically Books has been open nearly 40 years

Ask anyone who has shopped at Basically Books for an assessment and you’ll receive rave reviews for its selection of books about Hawaii, maps, stationery, and gift items. Basically Books is one of the few bookstores left in the area and the staff is extremely community-minded, say their customers. Can’t find what you want? They are happy to order it.

Recommended Book: Feng Shui for Retail Stores

Although she admits that she doesn’t read many business books, Christine Reed is a fan of Feng Shui expert Clear Englebert’s Feng Shui for Retail Stores. She says that it “is a valuable resource for any business owner, even if they don’t know what Feng Shui is…I found tidbits that I could apply immediately to my business about things I maybe never thought of. Interactions with customers, how to give change, and product displays are some of the areas explored.”


Bookstore: The King’s English Bookshop

Co-owner: Anne Holman (with Betsy Burton)

Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

In Business: The store was established in 1977

You get the sense that the owners and staff of The King’s English are up on just about every new book coming down the pike, probably because they are. They are true book lovers who enjoy trying to find just the right choice for their customers, as well as offering innovative programs like the Book-a-Month service.

Recommended Book: Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses

Says Anne Holman, “We have fought tooth and nail to stay one step ahead of the chain stores and the online algorithms.” Big-Box Swindle, by Stacy Mitchell, helped underscore for Holman the importance of supporting community-oriented businesses. “We believe that small business is what makes our country and our citizens great,” she says. “We urge our customers every day to shop local first and invest in their community.”


Bookstore: The Toadstool Bookshops

Co-owner: Willard Williams

Location: Peterborough, New Hampshire

In Business: The store was founded in 1972

With a tagline of “Enchanting selections of wonderful books,” the three Toadstool locations across New Hampshire provide readers with access to a vast selection of books. In addition to enjoying a dizzying array of in-store events, customers can order books online or even rent textbooks as needed.

Recommended Book: A Manual on Bookselling: How to open and run your own bookstore

“Many years ago the American Booksellers Association published a book called A Manual on Bookselling: How to open and run your own bookstore,” which is now out of print, says Willard Williams. “This book was invaluable to us when we started because it offered a nuts and bolts approach to understanding all aspects of the business.”


Bookstore: Blue Willow Bookshop

Owner: Valerie Kohler

Location: Houston, Texas

In Business: This shop’s been around for 21 years.

Skim the reviews for Blue Willow Bookshop and you’ll see a pattern within the comments. Nearly everyone agrees that Blue Willow has an excellent selection, but if you don’t find what you’re after, the knowledgeable staff will suggest similar alternatives. They also receive kudos for the number of book signings they host and the uber-organized system they have for such events.

Recommended Book: Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping

“If you are going to be in retail, Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy is a must-read for the entire staff,” says Kohler. “I still tell his stories to new staff all the time.  I also think about it when I shop for myself!” Underhill is the researcher who reported on the negative impact of the butt brush between shoppers, the importance of signage, and the popularity of add-on purchases when properly presented, among many other insights.


Bookstore: Little Shop of Stories

Co-owner: Dave Shallenberger

Location: Decatur, Georgia

In Business: Little Shop was established in 2005.

This children’s bookstore with small, well-curated adult fiction and nonfiction sections, is well-known throughout Georgia, if not the entire U.S. “We don’t sell a lot of business books,” says Shallenberger, “but as a business owner, I read a few each year and do bring in my favorites.”

Recommended Book: Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration–Lessons from The Second City

“Hands down, the best I’ve read recently is Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration–Lessons from The Second City by Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton,” says Dave Shallenberger. And “yes, it has a ridiculously long subtitle.” In particular, Shallenberger found it to be an exceptional guide to building teamwork and boosting employee creativity. “It’s well written and humorous, with lots of real examples from Second City theatre, as well as from the company’s business consulting arm.”


Bookstore: The Book Bin

Manager: Alli Mengarelli

Location: Northbrook, Illinois

In Business: Book Bin’s been around since 1972.

The Book Bin “specializes in finding the perfect book for the individual” and, its owners claim, they “dabble in rare books and antique lithographs from the ‘Belle Epoch’ period.” This full-service bookstore has been a fixture in Northbrook for 43 years and currently fills 2,000 square feet of space with books and gift items. The Book Bin staff bends over backwards to find books their customers are after and are happy to hunt for out-of-print titles.

Recommended Book: David and Goliath: Underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants

Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book, David and Goliath, shines a spotlight on the underdog which, in this case, looks a lot like independent bookstores. However, as Gladwell reports, those underdogs often have surprising strengths. Says Mengarelli, “In the age of internet giants such as Amazon, the little local shop around the corner can serve a customer’s needs better than any algorithm can.”


Bookstore: Buffalo Street Books

General Manager: Asha Sanaker

Location: Ithaca, New York

In Business: What started as The Bookery in 1981 is now a cooperatively-run business.

Citing a study by Civic Economics which showed that for every $100 spent at local bookstores, $45 remains in the local economy, compared to only $13 out of every $100 spent in chain bookstores, Buffalo Street Books truly aims to serve its community. So much so, in fact, that in 2009, the store became cooperatively-owned.

Recommended Book: Sacred Economics: Money, gift, and society in the age of transition

Describing it as, “a more theoretical book that I really appreciate because it helps me to think about how our small cooperative and the choices we make every day contribute to a larger sea change in the culture that we really want,” Sanaker recommends Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein. “I would encourage any and everyone to read it.” Why? “I think the book underscores the feeling that I have about us as a cooperative business and how important that is for our community.” While cooperative businesses have historically been established to provide daily necessities, Buffalo Street Books “forces us to widen our sense of necessity to think about community necessity (as opposed to individual necessity),” says Sanaker, and to reconsider what exactly is an appropriate measure of business success.

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