Brentano’s, a Bookstore Brand for Independents?

Brentano's logoPARIS – Yes, we all love the independent bookstore. And amazingly, it is still around. Here in Sarasota, Florida we have any number of them, some small with just paperbacks, others larger with antique and collectible books.

What got me thinking about them was the closure of Brentano’s in Paris, and the disappearance of the Brentano’s U.S. chain, in favor of WaldenBooks and Borders. Brentano’s had been run by Borders (NYSE: BGP). The logo here was designed by the notable firm of Chermayeff & Geismar Associates and released in 1978. Truly excellent design work.

Here is the sad note that the Paris store released:

Paris, June 15, 2009 Dear Friends,

It is with sadness, and astonishment – despite the prolonged agony of these last months – that we inform you of the official closing of Brentano’s Bookstore – Paris, Monday, June 15, 2009. We who remained for the final voyage are a skeleton crew. Along with the many cherished former colleagues you have known, we thank you for your vital collaboration and consideration throughout the years. …

After 114 years at the same address Brentano’s – the American Bookstore in Paris, will no longer welcome the curious passer-by and the faithful regular. In these final days many, many customers have expressed sincere disbelief and genuine anguish upon learning that this institution (in their minds invincible) will cease to exist.

We will miss our unique universe. We are thankful to have had the rare opportunity to know so many good and talented people from many nations and to have lived and worked in the world of books.

Best wishes, Susan Rosenberg and Alain Queval for Brentano’s – Paris

What to do with the Brentano’s brand, which is known throughout the U.S. and European Union as a place for real book lovers?

I wondered if there was a possibility that the Brentano’s brand could be licensed to local bookstores, and there might be economies of scale in some aspects of bookstore operation. This would allow stores to be independent, but have the efficiencies of a chain, much like Ace Hardware, which allows its franchisees wide latitude with operations, but share things like warehouses. Used-only bookstores could affiliate with the “new only” Borders and share online resources.

It would do a number of things for Borders. While revenues would be small, so would costs. So there is no risk there. And it would help Borders in not only aggregating market share, but the independent stores could offload remainders, build a customer base and increase the overall market for books. The independent bookstore operators would also be a good training ground for future management at Borders, and their expertise in niche markets would serve the company well.

This is not a “Borders has to do this” idea. But instead it is just a thought to show that there are numerous ways to keep the Brentano’s brand viable and use it to the benefit of bookselling.

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