Mostly it was the best of times but after 10 years of dedicating much of my life to BookBar, I’m ready to switch things up.
No one was more surprised than I was when it started looking like BookBar would actually make it through the pandemic. I should have known that our community would rally around us and that readers would change their buying habits in order to keep independent bookstores alive. However, those couple of years took a toll on most of us in all of the ways: mentally, physically, and certainly financially. As society began to reopen, I knew that spaces like BookBar were what the community needed most to come together again, to feel a sense of normalcy. I felt strongly that our community needed us. But as I, like so many others, used this time for reflection, I also realized my family needs me more right now. That’s one of the reasons I’ve decided to close BookBar after the holidays.
After pivoting countless times, rethinking everything, coming up with wild ideas, and pulling through as long as we could, the final nail in the coffin was the announcement of Denver’s minimum wage set to increase on January 1, 2023. I’m all out of pivots. I’m certainly not against raising the minimum wage. Everyone deserves to earn a liveable salary and we’ve always been committed to paying above the standard. I only wish this business could afford it. I hope other small businesses will be able to make it work.
For us, it comes down to very simple math. When I opened BookBar in 2013 the minimum wage was $7.78. In January it will increase to $17.29. That is roughly a 122% increase in the past 10 years. Compare that to the price of books, which have only increased around 5-7% in the past 10 years. It just doesn’t work. While the bar certainly helps to increase our overall margins, it also increases the work and complexity of the business, and food and beverage establishments can only raise their prices so much. Booksellers can’t raise our prices at all. As long as publishers continue to print prices on the covers of books, bookstores have no control over our margins.
Think about this: one of our current bestselling titles, Lessons in Chemistry, costs the same in Alger, Ohio, as it does in Vail, Colorado. I can think of very few things that cost the exact same amount, regardless of the local economy in which it’s sold. This model is one of the great failings of the book industry. Yes, we have the benefit of returning books that don’t sell, but just the act of returning books is a job in and of itself. There is a lot of labor, organization, and shipping costs to send returns back to publishers. Then there is the additional labor and bookkeeping headache of getting those returns actually credited to your accounts. With apologies to my publisher friends, I would so much rather be able to control my own margins than jump through all of the hoops of an archaic system.
I know this is difficult news for many reading this. It was my greatest dream to launch this business, and together we created a beautiful, literary community space. I couldn’t be happier about how much our community embraced us, and we are so thankful for the intimate moments you shared with us: weddings, engagements, birthdays, book launches, your stories. I’m eternally grateful for the staff, past and present, who have made a positive contribution to the store, the community, and to my life. I will miss BookBar and all of you so much, but 10 years is long enough to work as much and as hard as this business requires. It’s time for me to slow down a bit and spend more weekends and weeknights with my family. Caring for our disabled daughter, Stella, is becoming more and more complex the older she gets. Jack, now a Junior in high school, is exploring all the aspects of their identity and needs all of my love and support. Now is the time to soak up every moment with both of them and carve out more time for my sweet, fun-loving husband.
Though we will soon be closing BookBar’s doors, I am definitely not leaving the bookselling industry. I purchased The Bookies bookstore in Glendale in November 2021 after the passing of founder Sue Lubeck. This fifty year old bookstore blossomed from Sue’s passion of getting books into hands. I can relate to that and am enjoying carrying another book lover’s vision forward after having realized my own. I’m looking forward to being able to dedicate more of my time and attention to this very special store and the good-hearted employees who are such dedicated champions of literacy and free expression. The store is largely staffed by retired educators and librarians, after all, a group with whom I find myself increasingly more aligned. They are the badasses who are currently holding up our democracy (here is my shameless plug to please vote yes on 2I: Strong Library. Strong Denver in November!)
I will continue to advocate for changes in the bookselling industry that will help ensure that all of our bookstore business models are more sustainable as well as spending more time advocating for free expression, a topic I’ve become very passionate about as the paths to book access continue to narrow. I’m very excited to be able to give more of myself to BookGive, our non-profit organization, where our sole mission is to increase book access in our community through book donations and our Free Book Room that opened September 14th. BookBar Press will also keep on keeping on as we continue to publish books we believe in and work toward offering author service packages so that more people have a chance to share their biggest ideas and wildest imaginations.
I hope you’ll come see us through this holiday season. We’ll make sure to get all of your book orders to you before then — or you can pick them up at The Bookies. We’ll honor all BookBar gift cards at The Bookies either in-store or online, and your VIP membership will be honored there as well. We won’t be selling the BookBar building and will do everything in our power to make sure that a responsible, local, community-minded business replaces us (please spread the word) so stay tuned for continued updates. We still have plenty of fun planned for the next few months and new titles will continue to arrive right up to the day we close. We do have another store, after all. Please visit us there! You might even see some familiar BookBar faces as we will create space at The Bookies for any employees who would wish to join us there.
But wherever you shop, please just keep shopping at local independent businesses! We need support now, maybe more than ever.
With so much gratitude,