Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Interview With Elise Ringo, Communications Associate for Strand Books

Strand Books is one of the best bookstores in the country. Period. Just visit and you will agree. Ok, they don’t have a café, but they have everything else.

Here is what its Wikipedia page says about the store that boasts 16 miles worth of books:

The Strand was opened by Benjamin Bass in 1927 on nearby Fourth Avenue, in what was known as "Book Row", which was established as early as 1890, and which had at the time 48 bookstores.[1] Bass's son Fred took over the business in 1956 and soon moved the store to the present location at the corner of East 12th Street and Broadway. Fred's daughter Nancy is co-owner of the store, and is also married to U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. The store occupies three and a half floors, using half a floor for offices and one additional floor as warehouse space. As of December 2011, the store had 2.5 million books.

“Besides the main store and Central Park kiosk, an additional location, the "Strand Book Annex", opened in the 1980s and was originally located on Front Street in the South Street Seaport complex. It moved in 1996 to Fulton and Gold Streets in the Financial District, but finally closed on September 22, 2008 due to rent increases.

“The Strand is a family-owned business with more than 240 employees. Many Lower East Side artists have worked at the store, including two rock musicians of the 1970s: Patti Smith – who claimed not to have liked the experience because it "wasn't very friendly – and Tom Verlaine, who was fond of the discount book carts sitting outside the store,

“The Strand has had a unionized workforce for over 35 years. On April 5, 2012, unionized workers at the store rejected a new contract. Further talks were planned between the two parties.] On June 15, 2012, workers ratified a new contract with the store. 

For more information, please consult: . now enjoy this interview with the store’s representative:

1.      What are humble origins of Strand Books?
In 1927 our founder, Ben Bass, started Strand with $300 of his own memory and a $300 loan from a friend. Strand’s location then was on “Book Row”, a six block area on Fourth Avenue that included forty-eight bookstores. In 1957, Ben’s son Fred (and our current owner, along with his daughter Nancy), decided to move the store to its current location on Broadway. As of today, we’re the sole survivor from the Book Row era.

2.      Your store's slogan indicates you now sell 18 miles of books. How did you manage to grow over the years while the industry saw contraction on the retail front? It’s been a combination of staying true to our roots while being willing to change. Being open to new ideas and innovation is a vital part of Strand’s success - we were an early bookstore to put up a website and start selling our stock online, which helps us reach more people and stay competitive. At the same time, however, it’s important for us to be faithful to our long history and remain a local bookstore that serves our community in NYC.

3.      What makes Strand unique or special in its offerings to consumers? One obvious unique offering is our signature tote bags! They’re an essential for many New Yorkers, and our in-house designers are always creating new designs, like the NYC Reader bag that was released in May or the Frida Kahlo tote that just debuted.

There’s also our book carts, where we sell books for between $1 and $5, full of a variety of hidden treasures and odd surprises. You might even find a signed copy from your favorite author. Finally, the Rare Book Room on our third floor is a hidden gem. It is one of only a handful in the country that are open to the public and contains books valued from $30 to $45,000 depending on the day.

4.      How would you rank your store among other independent stores like Powell's, Tattered Cover, etc?​ Obviously we’d like to say we’re the best! Overall, we prefer to keep a sense of solidarity with other independent bookstores across the country - local bookstores are an important part of a community. Powell’s Books in Oregon is probably the most similar to us in terms of scale and reach - but we do have 44 years on them.

5.      Where do you feel the book industry is heading? We think that rumors of the demise of print were premature! ​Last year was our best year ever in terms of gross sales, and that was reflected not only in us, but also an incredibly strong year for books overall. Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series was a runaway bestseller, and Ta-Nahisi Coates exploded onto the scene with Between the World and Me. Stories are everlasting and they're told best in print, and surveys show that book lovers - especially young book lovers - favor physical books over e-readers.

6.      Will Strand ever have a cafe? ​Maybe! It's something we're always evaluating but for now, we're surrounded by some fine coffee shops throughout the Greenwich Village area.

7.      You have a wonderful rare books collection for sale. What are some of the gems waiting to be snatched up? We have a lot of incredible books on display right now, including a first edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, a limited edition of A Streetcar Named Desire signed by Tennessee Williams, a first edition of Native Son by Richard Wright, and a first edition with first issue dust jacket of A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.

8.      How do you determine what to price a book that you buy or sell? We have a fairly simple pricing system: for the most part, new books sell for 10% off the list price, and used books for 50% off. For older or out of print books, we usually price based on looking at data from other sellers like Amazon and Abe Books.

9.      Of the many used books that come your way, what are you looking for when deciding whether to acquire a particular title? The first deciding factor our buyers check is condition - all our used books are in good condition, and many look new. Then our buyers look at sales history for books - our system keeps records of every book we’ve had in stock, and how it moved on our shelves. We look pretty rigorously at every book brought to us: while we have 18 miles of books, shelf space is still limited!

10.  You sell other items with a book theme, such as mugs, T-shirts, magnets, cards, etc. some stores also sell toys, music, and magazines. Will you expand into those areas? We actually do sell those items! There are toys in our Children’s Department on the second floor, vinyl in the Strand Underground, and a selection of art-related magazines also on the second floor. Our space is limited, but we are are always looking for items our audience enjoys.

11.  You have a lot of staff in hand and they seem passionate and knowledgeable. Is customer service a significant differentiator for you? Absolutely! One of the distinguishing traits of a good independent bookstore is the ability for customers to make a face to face connection with a real person. Our staff are all people who come to Strand because they love books, and our hope is that they bring that love to our customers. Bookstores can be a place for solitary browsing, but they can just as easily be a place to form a community and have conversations, and we want to facilitate that.

12.  Why do you love books enough to make a living being around them daily? For me, personally, books have always been a part of my life since early childhood. They were how I connected with the world and, frequently, how I made friends. (It’s easy to strike up a conversation about a book someone’s reading!) Books allow me to experience a broad range of experiences I can never have, and see the world from a variety of perspectives. Being able to live in that world, help others meet their perfect book and being a part of a community of readers, is such a satisfying experience.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2016

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