Book biz stays strong

The faltering economy hasn't hurt sales at Surrey book stores.

The struggling economy hasn't slowed sales at local book stores.

Are books going the way of the dinosaur?

Caitlin Jesson, new manager of the Book Warehouse – the iconic mecca for fans of the printed word that re-opened in Vancouver June 1 as the latest acquisition in the family-owned, South Surrey-based Black Bond Books’ 12-store chain – says she isn’t worried.

Even the challenges of the current economy, including the U.S. dollar reaching parity with the Canadian dollar – and much-trumpeted technological change, such as the rise of e-books and online sales – have not significantly dented Black Bond’s time-tested business model, Jesson said.

That’s built, she says, on book lovers who appreciate the physical feel of the printed word and stores close to home providing a good selection and personalized service.

She noted that next year will be the 50th anniversary of the chain founded by her grandmother, Madeleine Neill, and now owned and run by her parents, Mel and Cathy Jesson.

“We’re definitely going to be around for a long time, so long as we’re willing to adapt and change with the times,” she said.

Jesson said Black Bond has been able to weather U.S. competition by making selective, rather than across the board, discounts.

The enthusiastic response to the new ownership of the West Broadway landmark has been “an exciting, if intensely challenging week and a half,” the 2004 Semiahmoo Secondary grad said.

The re-opening  of the 3,700 sq. ft. location has been greeted by loyal customers with bouquets of flowers, and, more importantly, the sound of a ringing register.

Even with the hard-to–shake effects of the recession, Black Bond has been making a consistent gain in sales since the end of 2011, long enough to indicate that it’s more than just a market blip.

But Jesson has a feeling Black Bond’s continuing success has a lot to do with the resilience of the market for what she calls “tangible books” as opposed to virtual equivalents.

“I think enough people appreciate the printed word,” she said. “We stare at screens all day – who wants to stare at another screen when we’re reading?”

Not that she doesn’t acknowledge that e-books serve a certain market.

“I think there’s room in the world for both e-books and the tangible book,” she said.

While she recognizes Amazon as the biggest challenge, she said she feels Black Bond can provide a level of service the online giant can’t muster.

“We want people to leave the store with a smile on their face and the book they want.

“As long as we are doing that, connecting with our customers, there are enough people who are community and locally minded to keep us in business.”

Surrey North Delta Leader

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