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Book Cellar Nervously Eyeing Amazon's New Brick-And-Mortar Store

By Patty Wetli | March 23, 2017 6:19am
 Knowledgeable staff and hustling to sell books at author events are two ways the Book Cellar aims to compete with Amazon Books.
Knowledgeable staff and hustling to sell books at author events are two ways the Book Cellar aims to compete with Amazon Books.
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Facebook/The Book Cellar

LINCOLN SQUARE — A store opening on Southport doesn't typically phase retailers in Lincoln Square, but when the newcomer to Lakeview is the city's first brick-and-mortar Amazon Books, the tremors were felt by indie bookstore owners across the North Side.

"No, I'm not OK," said Suzy Takacs, owner of the Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln Ave.

With its deep discounts and e-books, Amazon's online site has already siphoned off a significant portion of Takacs' customer base, and now she is worried Amazon Books will eat away at the remaining readers who still prefer to physically shop for physical books.

This group of paper-loving stalwarts is finite and not likely to expand just because there are more bookstores, Takacs believes.

"I see Amazon [Books] as diluting our volume," she said.

Knowing she can't compete on price — though she can on convenience, with an online ordering cart — Takacs said the Book Cellar will continue to differentiate itself in other ways.

"I think we have a very unique, curated inventory," she said, as opposed to Amazon Book's data-driven model of bestsellers.

Takacs also places a great deal of stock in her staff members and their ability to recommend books customers would like.

"The people who work here are brilliant readers," Takacs said.

And she'll also keep on hustling. Some weeks, Takacs rarely steps foot in the Book Cellar because she's working off-site events.

In March alone, the Book Cellar provided the books sold at author readings and signings at Chess Records, the Harold Washington Library, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the Radisson Blu Aqua, and a day-long gathering of mystery/crime writers at Roosevelt University.

Coming up: an event at Uptown's Everybody's Coffee with "Divergent" author Veronica Roth. And next week the Book Cellar will be encroaching on Amazon Books' territory as part of Augusten Burroughs' appearance at the Music Box Theatre.

"It takes a lot of extra work just to meet basic bills," Takacs said.

Aldermen Pat O'Connor (40th) and Ameya Pawar (47th), whose wards share Lincoln Square, addressed the precariousness of the neighborhood's small businesses at a recent community forum.

Pawar stressed the need for a diverse population — not just young families — to support the area's retailers and restaurants.

"I use myself as an example," said Pawar, who has a 1-year-old daughter. "If it's just young families like us, who's going to go to bars and restaurants and shops?"

Comparing his credit card statements before and after baby, "We'd go out a couple of times a week. Now we haven't gone out at all," he said.

A number of pending mixed-use developments on Lawrence Avenue are aimed not only at increasing density — more people living in Lincoln Square means more people eating and shopping in Lincoln Square — but at adding to the available inventory of commercial properties.

Pulling business onto Lawrence should ease the pressure on Lincoln Avenue storefronts and stabilize rents, which have been skyrocketing, Pawar said.

Referencing the recently shuttered Swedish Bakery in Andersonville, O'Connor urged people to spend their dollars locally.

"If we as a community value small businesses, we have to make an effort to patronize and not mourn them," O'Connor said. "The best way to keep them is to buy from them."

The key word is buy, Takacs noted.

Too often, customers treat brick-and-mortar shops — be it a bookstore, toy store or wine shop — like showrooms, she said.

"You can't just look and see what you like and then buy online," Takacs said. "Then you have empty storefronts."