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Goner Message Board / Memphis / Burke's Books
Posted: May 15, 2006 6:23 pm
http://www.commercialappeal.com/mca/business/article/0,1426,MCA_440_46 97089,00.html

Interesting. I have to admit, though it is great to have a used/new indie bookstore in any town and they have some great stuff, Burke's really was uncomfortable to shop in and the staff could be worse than nearly any retail person I have ever encountered, including myself when I worked in record stores and was a 23 year old wench. It is pretty telling, that line in this story that they met with the staff to tell them how broke they were and the owner said, "Maybe we need to make sure we greet everyone."
Posted: May 15, 2006 7:45 pm
Corey is a very good friend of mine, and the greatest book-lover I know. It's fairly well known that he's agoraphobic...clinically...and maybe this is part of the "aloofness". I've always found those guys more than willing to help you shop there. Corey's just not a bastion of bullshit.
Midtown Books has shared the space at the MAM for a couple of years. While it is a good bookstore, and Hugh will bullshit with you all day, I'd rather spend my money someplace where the owner doesn't say "Oh, I don't read women authors. I don't like them."
Posted: May 15, 2006 7:54 pm
I thought the lack of response on this may be due to Memphis friend politics and I certainly understand that. I may have never shopped there while they were the owners/operators, honestly. But my view of it the last I lived there was that they totally lowballed me in a bad way when I sold some valuable books there before moving. I know that happens because you want the highest profit margin possible (hey I did for years buying back used records), but when you know what something is worth, you want someone to at least act fair. And I often felt like I was interrupting their day when I was in there and had a question. I am not trying to insult your friend (because he may have never been the cause of my opinion of that store) but this was my experience.
Posted: May 15, 2006 8:08 pm
I just saw the topic. And, I did have to think about it but not because of the friend thing, but because I have to be fairly careful of what I say about other people in the article. I know some backstory, but this isn't really the place for it.
The owners before Cheryl and Corey were nice folks, but didn't have a lot of impetus to keep it going. Maybe this is who you dealt with before. It was Corey and Cheryl's dream for years to buy it because they are really into books, and the idea of independent booksellers. Corey's right though, the business end of it has definitely not been his forte.
Posted: May 15, 2006 8:19 pm
I left in May 2000 and it said in the article that they bought it in 2000, so they likely were not the reasons for my bad experience. I know retail is a hard gig and I am scared too to go into my own biz just from two of the small indie record stores I worked at in the past going under after trying so hard.

I do think customer service is really key; more important often that what you are stocking and selling. I was a total brat pretty much the whole time I worked in record stores because that was almost the expectation. The owners half the time were asocial former punks themselves who thought lowballing the customer on buybacks was awesome and mocking them funny.

Once I had to work for Barnes and Noble (retch), I had to wrachet up the sweet talk act about 110%. Not to say that independent stores need to be like corporate whores, but there should be some cognizance of customer service when you are relying on customers to pay your bills. Just part of the job, you know?
Posted: May 15, 2006 8:25 pm
Burke's Books is always on my list of places to go when i visit memphis -- i've been going there since i was a kid -- my dad tried to get me to become a collector of 1st Edition books and would always order me stuff from there -- i wound up an semi-literate record collector nerd instead - but i've always loved going to Burke's
Posted: May 15, 2006 8:30 pm
It's funny, but I find all the big chain bookseller employees insufferably rude...especially at the Bookstar in Poplar Plaza.
Most probably you didn't deal with Corey and Cheryl. The owners before were fairly well to do Walnut Grove folks who were nearing retirement age.
Nice folks, but I certainly don't think Burke's was a passion for them.

Corey and Cheryl are just nerds who LOVE books. They are both pretty shy, though, and seem to employee people that are shy nerds who love books, too. I can understand why that might be a problem in a business...I don't think anyone in there would ever try to push a book on someone that didn't want it! You know...the old "books are magical and sacred things" thing.
Posted: May 15, 2006 8:31 pm
Paddy, the Driver loves it too. Maybe you just have to live somewhere else to appreciate it!
Posted: May 15, 2006 8:31 pm
I think the part about people being too afraid to go out and shop, is bull shit. 9-11 didn't keep me from going out to get a damn book or anything else, it is just easier and cheaper to order online. This article doesn't make me sympathetic, it gave me a headache for all of its whining. Half of it is the blame game. I think it is totally shitty to blame anything on "shy" employees, who the hell hired them. It seems like they did not do much except aquire a struggling book store and think they could get by on the name and a love of books.
Posted: May 15, 2006 8:32 pm
I think the part about people being too afraid to go out and shop, is bull shit. 9-11 didn't keep me from going out to get a damn book or anything else,
I thought this was pretty strange too.
Posted: May 15, 2006 8:41 pm
Yeah, someone told them that shit and they're hanging onto it out of denial. They started up their own internet arm (neccessary) and they are still having problems. The whole publishing industry is going through a major change and I can imagine how this impacts a small bookseller, but they have the name, history and a niche. They likely need to rework their business model more, tell their employees that they need to break out of their shells and try to sell or at least be more accommodating to customers and go from there. This donations thing is just simply kinda pathetic to me, honestly.
Posted: May 15, 2006 8:50 pm
simply kinda pathetic to me, honestly.
Hell yeah it is, why not get those book work employees to use their knowledge to come up with some plan to save the store.
Posted: May 15, 2006 8:56 pm
If they want to keep their laid-back bookstore job, they need to be put on think tank patrol. I am sure everyone there is super smart and has a liberal arts degree...they always end up in bookstores (hi mom!)...I should have gone to business school, I swear to god.
Posted: May 15, 2006 8:58 pm
This donations thing is just simply kinda pathetic to me, honestly.
Yeah, I've thought it was a pretty pathetic thing from the start. And was very surprised that he'd consider it. That said, I thought it was a terrible article and it made them look bad.
Posted: May 15, 2006 9:03 pm | Edited by: fierydrunk
I guess that is why I posted it initially...the begging for money from customers just makes you look like you shouldn't have a business in the first place. Sorry for going all Donald Trump. I am not that ruthless, I just was really turned off esp. given my last experience there.
Posted: May 15, 2006 10:26 pm
they have been nothing but helpful every time i go in there, and what they don't have, they can certainly order for you. in fact, i got several of my books for school there this year and they were cheaper than the stupid bookstore on campus too. i love that place.
Posted: May 15, 2006 10:28 pm
My wife got me a first edition Sartre book there ages and ages ago...
Posted: May 15, 2006 10:34 pm | Edited by: hemant
I agree fiery. He needs to get some books on running a small business. I'm guessing that his agoraphobia was probably aggravated after 9/11, but he should realize that it doesn't keep everybody else inside.

The donations only seem to be a short term fix. If they don't get a handle on their high overhead, they will be begging at the same time next year.
The employees have incredible health care benefits, and unless they cut those benefits or lay off employees, its going to fail. I know laying off employees will suck, but all of the employees will be out of a job if the business goes under.
Posted: May 15, 2006 10:39 pm
first edition Sartre book

completely jealous.
Posted: May 15, 2006 10:40 pm
Crazy eyed freak. Love him.
Posted: May 15, 2006 10:46 pm
I think the begging letter was sad, and will well concede that Corey's not a businessman. But, doing something you love for the love of it, and giving your employees "incredible health care benefits" is a GOOD thing. He's well aware of the "bookstore, coffee-shop" thing and the benefits of that, but has resisted that because he wants to be a BOOKSTORE. Maybe that's not practical in the Starbuckification of America...
Posted: May 16, 2006 12:09 am
Burke's considered doing a coffee shop waaaaay before Otherlands' coffee shop saved Karen's failing bed-on-the-floor business (i.e. futons). They never followed through with the idea and every other book store in town has opened a coffee shop. They also could have beefed up their Memphis memorabilia section (Memphis magazines, zines, whatever etc), which I used to beg them to buy and re-sell. They kind of looked down their nose at that prospect. "Give the people what they want" I always thought was a good business slogan.

Getting into the internet this late in the game is not just bad business--it's pretty stupid to have waited this long. They could be benefiting from the internet revolution (rare books anyone? that's a huge ebay business) that they are complaining is hurting them.

That said, I love Burke's books and think it is a Memphis gem. More music related book events, please!
Posted: May 16, 2006 12:24 am
I admire him trying to give his employees benefits--that is stellar. Our friend here who owns a VERY successful coffee roastery and three cafes has his accountant telling him he is ruining himself by giving his employees the stellar health insurance they get, but he would rather fire the accountant than take that away. Perhaps he could find another benefits package and have his employees pick up some more premium. FHIAAP could assist them (if they qualify) in helping them pay for the premiums. Last month, they started a huge push in every state to encourage more people to apply for FHIAAP assistance...just ask your friendly social worker for info.

A model I really like now has a mainly online store with a "open warehouse" on weekends. They sell fancy duds for ladies. I may steal that one. Books might do really well with that or a version of that with more open days.
Posted: May 16, 2006 1:40 am
I know retail is a hard gig and I am scared too to go into my own biz just from two of the small indie record stores I worked at in the past going under after trying so hard..... The owners half the time were asocial former punks themselves who thought lowballing the customer on buybacks was awesome and mocking them funny.

Sounds like they weren't really trying hard at all, were they?

I run three retail stores here in LA that are privately owned, based on DIY ethics and our primary mission statement is to be a place that offers new and unique items without being elitist or exclusionary to the uninitiated. It's not THAT hard to do, but if the company's leadership and staff believe that they are better than the general public they are serving, they aren't going to last anywhere -- well, unless of course they have a bottomless trust fund that's letting them do whatever it is they want to do.

At my stores there's no hard sell, everyone is greeted, and all questions are answered - provided we know the answers.
Posted: May 16, 2006 1:49 am
Sounds like they weren't really trying hard at all, were they?

Absolutely--but I said half the time; they had good hearts and did try to keep things going, if maybe only finding out too late how important customer service is. They weren't the worst snottiest people I have ever worked for; some of those people are wildly successful in business, so go figure. Sometimes you can be the best store ever, with excellent ethics and service and still fail. You are fortunate to have found your niche and to have been successful.

What kind of store do you have, invictus? I like the sound of it.
Posted: May 16, 2006 2:29 am
Why has ol' David Williams' piece generated this interest? This came out around the first of this month, as usual, before the CA:

Posted: May 16, 2006 2:55 am
I didn't like the way the piece was written. I think it made Corey and Cheryl look like schmucks. Negative press always makes a bigger splash than the "nicer" story that you referenced.
Posted: May 16, 2006 3:17 am
It is amazing how a different slant on a story can change a reader's opinion even just a tad.
Posted: May 16, 2006 3:41 am
While I think people are catching on and the Daily News is scooping a whole bunch of media here on a regular basis, critical mass is definitely not there in terms of readership. If the comical keeps going in its pseudo news, p.r. release direction, I'm sure more folks will soon be hip to the daily news as opposed to the what is passing for the "daily" these days.

Also, in terms of the atmosphere at retail outlets: people tend to spend more money these days shopping in places where they feel at least mildly entertained. Hence, book signings, in-stores, giveaways & promotional events are perceived as not crass commercial sales events but an afternoon (or evening) out that is relatively inexpensive. I think Burke's could do a lot more by spending energy doing more things like that rather than sending out (unsolicited) poetry emails every Monday. Plus the coffee thing is not a sell-out. It just gives your regulars another excuse to drop by & check out new stuff, and throw 3-5$ a day into the coffers. That shit ads up!
Posted: May 16, 2006 3:55 am
If there is anyone really interested in starting up a good espresso cafe (with good pastries etc), they could offer to lease the space inside the shop to them and not have to invest more money into that side of things. Powells, one of the largest independent bookstores in existence probably, leases out space in both their huge and smaller stores to cafes, just skimming cash from the lease but collecting the benefits of drawing more customers in for some of the best coffee around. The one in the smaller store is one of the best cafes in town. Decent espresso machines and grinders can be crazy expensive and getting knee deep in the coffee thing that they don't know at all could be tough.
Posted: May 16, 2006 4:43 am
I had heard that Burkes had crazy good insurance- always thought that was cool of 'em, as they have real reasonable prices, but i don't think i've been in there in the last five years and seen less than three people working at a time. (and by working i mean reading books behind the counter, mostly) still, great store.
Posted: May 16, 2006 5:17 am
I'm on the fence about this. I buy an assload of books. Well, I buy an assload of books relative to my low income. I live one block from Burke's, yet I always find myself at Davis-Kidd. One reason could be that I usually buy a periodical of some stripe when I get books, plus, Burke's does not have a great selection of new releases. Now, when I was wanting to fill out my Larry Brown or Barry Hannah selects, I did so cheaply at Burke's - they have a strong selection of Southern books. I couldn't give three shits about the latest McSweeney's collection, and it seems that Burke's fills out their new release section with a little too much Eggers-friendly safe and clever entries for my personal taste. I'm back in a phase of reading music, film, and writer bios or readers (or non-fiction related to), and Burke's isn't going to cut it for that stuff. Also, I like Midtown books, maybe due to the really cheap prices.
Posted: May 16, 2006 6:49 am
What's the readership like Sherman? It seems to be an interesting alternative.
Posted: May 16, 2006 2:37 pm | Edited by: Fern
This is from salon.com about the death of indie bookstores. It goes against the 9/11 theory that Corey weirdly asumes. It is a sad commentary about the short attention span and the trendy bestseller books that people want to read. The author is not sad at tthe demise of the indies. He deglects to point out that local bookstores keep the money in the community instead of sending it off to coporate headquarters.
"As a result, we tend to consume ideas in smaller bits, a proposition that (in another context) economists labeled the "Alchian and Allen theorem." Long, serious novels are less culturally central than they were 100 years ago. Blogs are on the rise, and most readers prefer the ones with the shorter posts. Our greater access to books also means that each book has less time to prove itself. A small percentage of the books published account for a large share of the profits, thus setting off a race to track reader demand. Many customers want very recent best-sellers, often so they can feel they are reading something trendy, something other people are talking about. Of course, that's its own kind of affectation—and not an entirely pleasing one."
Posted: May 16, 2006 4:12 pm
Chick-Lit, anyone? Those are always the biggest ads in the NY Times. Depressing. Now I like make up and shopping as much as the next girl (obviously from my posts on this very board) but hell if I wanna waste my brain reading formulaic pap based on a lost "Sex & The City" episode.

But, yeah. I hear what Earles is saying and it isn't something that is specific to Burke's--many indy stores cannot afford to buy the breadth of selections that most people want. Davis-Kidd is still independent, right? Some people in Portland sniff at Powell's because it is a behemoth, but that place is book-nirvana.
Posted: May 16, 2006 5:59 pm
Davis-Kidd is an indie with three locations: Here, Jackson, TN, and Nashville. That 9/11 theory is ridiculous. In 2006? An indie bookstore? Whatever. I'm with Sherm...pop some of those 1st Ed's up on eBay for a needed "donation." Like they're going to sell in a retail situation.
Posted: May 16, 2006 6:26 pm
Absolutely--but I said half the time; they had good hearts and did try to keep things going, if maybe only finding out too late how important customer service is. They weren't the worst snottiest people I have ever worked for; some of those people are wildly successful in business, so go figure. Sometimes you can be the best store ever, with excellent ethics and service and still fail. You are fortunate to have found your niche and to have been successful.

What kind of store do you have, invictus? I like the sound of it.

Not my stores, I just run them, but it's the Giant Robot stores... basically the retail spin off of the magazine. We were one of the first (if not THE first) to try that out, and it's worked amazingly well. It works because we've never been about cashing in on trends, or following other people's business models - it's always been about stocking the store with what we enjoy and want to share with people. There's not a lot of science to it. But yeah, the key is finding a balance between making things accessible to people in off the street and also turning people on to something new that they probably won't find in too many places. We have a lot of competition out there, but it's always interesting to see how they take our model and go awry with it. It's cool though... it's fascinating to see go down. I'm sure if I went to business school or had any solid background in economics I'd have a lot more poignant things to say about it.

We sell a lot of books, but we aren't trying to be a bookstore. We sell books by people we admire, or who inspire us and we end up carrying a wide variety of titles from a lot of different genres. People come to us for hard to find books. It's fun to see someone get their hands on something they've been looking for for a while, or a new issue of a comic or anthology that they've been waiting on for months (or more).

I support as many independent businesses as I can, even though it usually means paying more and sacrificing more time. I'm more concerned about independent music stores being driven out of business than independent book sellers - seems like that's dying out faster.

Here in LA, Amoeba Records has had a direct hand in the downfall of tons of independent record stores. It's a sad thing to see, but I guess that's the way things are headed. Whenever I do get the hankering to buy something new I make a point of trying to find records at other places first. Amoeba is always a last resort.

Damn... did I de-rail this topic or what?


Burke's Books. I remember it well. I hope it doesn't go under, but if it does, I can see how they fell behind and how other businesses should learn from their mistakes.

(There, back on track again.)
Posted: May 16, 2006 6:34 pm | Edited by: Uptight White
I've always liked Burke's, but I don't make it out that way very much. The staff were friendly and very helpful. I'd go in there looking for a paperback, and end up with a first or second edition hardcover at reasonable price.

I'm all for supporting unique, local outfits that provide something special. They give a city character, but a business that solicits donations rubs me raw. Donations are for charities. The article sounds like these folks with the best intentions got in over their heads. They sound lost. Lots of cities have extremely successful locally owned bookstores, but they are market savvy and stock what people buy.
Posted: May 16, 2006 6:46 pm
Derailed if only for a sec--

I worked for Amoeba within the first year and a half of their existence. I have never ever had a better retail job. We were just one store then, albeit HUGE. I will never fault them for running with their model even though a lot of people have. They gave me a chance when all the other Bay Area stores thought I was some cracker moron with a Southern accent. Maybe it has run a lot of smaller places out of business, but I can't hate them for being successful. They taught me a lot and let me grow in responsibilities like no other business before or since.

So anyways!
Posted: May 16, 2006 7:50 pm
I love Burke's and have never had anything but positive experiences there. That said, I can count on one hand how many times I've been in there in the last 18 months - mostly due to the reasons Earles mentioned upthread.

Also, due to a new budget I've been heading to the library more.
Posted: May 16, 2006 11:28 pm | Edited by: fierydrunk
Also, due to a new budget I've been heading to the library more.

Ditto. Reserve everything I want online and eventually it comes in. If they don't stock it, I may buy it. Like the Prisoner of X book..read it anyone????
Posted: May 17, 2006 5:03 pm
I want to read it. That guy friended me on MySpace, but declined my request for a free copy.
Posted: May 17, 2006 5:34 pm
some friend. jeez.
Posted: May 17, 2006 5:51 pm
Yeah, whaddupwiddat? I mean, he should have TOTALLY believed my malarkey about "getting it reviewed somewhere." Ha.....likely.
Posted: May 18, 2006 1:23 am
He friended me, I accepted after a bit of quizzing. He was nice, polite and very funny. I went ahead and bought the book on Amazon.com, damn me.
Posted: May 18, 2006 1:26 am | Edited by: eric o
ah, what a friendster.

but, if he makes a million friends like you via myspace- HELLO NY TIMES BESTSELLER LIST! brilliant.
Posted: May 18, 2006 1:47 am | Edited by: fierydrunk

He pimped the book cover as his "photo" and then has very wisely done an Event Invite for his one signing he had in LA...the book was in the NY Times so I am perplexed why he isn't going on a tour.

Not that I'd meet him in reality anyway...my intro to G. Pelecanos was annoying. I don't like feeling like a fangurl anymore. The book signings are worse than record store instores!
Posted: May 18, 2006 1:49 am
Can you win myspace?
Posted: May 18, 2006 4:49 am
Can you win myspace?

I think Jeremy Jackson won.
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