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No more ‘Book Month’ – but independent bookstores in West Roxbury adapt

Posted by boston.com  October 25, 2013 01:25 PM

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Brad Kinne, owner of Seek bookstore.

For years, October has officially been National Book Month -- but no more. As of this year, the National Book Foundation is no longer sponsoring the national event.

But while the digital age has helped to end the annual campaign to "Fall into a Good Book," two independent booksellers in West Roxbury are finding creative ways to keep their doors open and shelves stocked. As other bookstores in Boston have been shuttered, Brad Kinne of Seek Books and Tom Nealon at Pazzo Books are cultivating specialty niches and turning to online sales to remain viable.

Kinne opened Seek, a science fiction, fantasy and horror genre specialty shop, 4½ years ago, after 25 years as an addiction therapist at the VA hospital in Jamaica Plain. Opening a science fiction bookstore was a “lifelong dream” for Kinne, he said, and his decision to go genre-specific has helped him to continue to thrive in the shrinking independent bookstore market.

“Being a destination is key,” Kinne said. “Seek is a destination place,” named in recognition of the notion that people seek a particular reading experience.

In the absence of a national book month campaign, Kinne has deemed October “Horrocktober,” with all horror and vampire titles discounted 20 percent.

To keep customers checking in and stopping by, Seek has other month-long specials and weekly incentives throughout the year. The last Saturday of every month is “Hatter-Day,” which offers customers wearing their best headwear a 25 percent discount on all purchases. Facebook group members, Charlie Card holders and veterans receive 10 percent off every day.

Having a specialty niche also has helped Nealon, owner of Pazzo Books. To combat infrequent foot traffic, Nealon has shifted Pazzo’s inventory, focusing on rare and collectible books.

“Most of the books [in the store] are general books, but most of the sales are rare books,” he said.

Nealon, who originally opened Pazzo in Roslindale in 2003, moved the store to West Roxbury in 2008. Storefronts are tough, Nealon said, but the book business is solid.

National figures bear that out: books are selling, both in print and in digital versions. Amazon’s 2012 earnings and sales report shows a whopping 70 percent increase in e-book sales, with print book sales for the site increasing slightly, as well.

Books aren’t dead, say those in the business; people just read and shop for them differently. Gone are the days of people coming into a bookstore and just looking, said Nealon. People tend to come in, ask if you have something, then buy it if you do -- or move on if you don’t.

“People are sensitive with their time these days,” Nealon said.

Both Nealon and Kinne conduct much of their business online, a must-do in today’s markets. More than 90 percent of Pazzo’s sales are made online in some months, said Nealon.

Kinne said the Internet boom “took a lot out of business -- not because of digital books, but because people can order online . . . Going to a store is not people’s first choice anymore.”

While the convenience of online shopping is an obstacle for many brick-and-mortar retail businesses, Seek and Pazzo remain committed to keeping books in the neighborhood.

“I have my ups and my downs,” said Kinne, “but we’re doing good.”

This article was reported and written under the supervision of Northeastern University journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of a collaboration with The Boston Globe.

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