As Amazon Preps Chicago Store, Indie Bookstores Push Back

By Stephen Gossett in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 5, 2017 10:44PM

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Getty Images / Photo: Justin Sullivan

News came through on Thursday that Amazon plans to extend the brick-and-mortar IRL arm of its global-retail-domination and data-collection campaign into Manhattan, where the mega-retailer will open a bookstore in the Shops in Columbus Circle in Time Warner Center. We here in Chicago know the feeling, of course. Amazon announced last August plans to open a non-digital, storefront shop in Lakeview slated for later this year.

But not everyone in Chicago is thrilled with Jeff Bezos' sharp elbows, least among us independent booksellers. The Chicagoland Independent Bookstore Alliance, a coalition of 23 area indie shops united forces shortly after the Chicago store announcement to promote their little-guy assets and “strengthen the bonds of the [independent bookstore] community,” as Nina Barrett, owner of Bookends & Beginnings in Evanston, put it to Chicagoist.

Since ChIBA began last October, the alliance has pushed to advocate not only for the “non-monolithic,” personalized experience indies offer (for those “not well served by algorithms and the mass bestseller model,” as Barrett described it to Chicagoist) but to educate consumers about the economic and consumer-choice burden that Amazon represents.

For example, the ChIBA points to a recent study by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, in which researchers found that (surprise) Amazon weakens community revenue streams, stifles competition and distorts the market through data collection. Unlike Amazon, stores like Bookends & Beginnings never use books as a loss leader to mine and market data, Barrett stressed. They're actually, you know, passionate about books.

"It has a much bigger effect on what people think of as downtown or neighborhood retail community, generally speaking,” Barrett said.

The indies vs. Amazonian Goliath is a familiar dynamic, but the storefront model throws a new, unknown kink into the market for the self-run set. "Nobody knows quite what the full agenda is," she said of the store model. "But there's no hidden agenda here."

As the situation plays out, indie-minded consumers can follow along with ChIBA's admirable promotion of writer events and fostering of local authors through their MyChicagoIndie campaign, on Twitter and Facebook. And keep in some of our own favorites shops when the stacks come calling.