Walnut Creek: Amazon to open brick-and-mortar bookstore – East Bay Times
WALNUT CREEK — Following the departure of Barnes & Noble last year and the demise of several chain and independent bookstores in the city over the decades, online giant Amazon is planning a brick-and-mortar book store in Broadway Plaza.
Amazon spokeswoman Sarah Gelman confirmed the Seattle-based online retailer is opening an Amazon Books and hiring workers at the high-end shopping center.
But the company refused to divulge any other details about its latest brick-and-mortar, which joins Amazon book stores in San Diego, Portland and Seattle, and about 30 Amazon Pop-Ups hawking the company’s e-readers and services in malls nationwide. The company is also testing a grocery store in Seattle that lets shoppers bypass checkout and pay for their items using their Amazon account.
Whatever the final incarnation, Amazon’s foray into tony Walnut Creek doesn’t shock Laurelle Swan, who operates the city’s last remaining independently-owned book store, Swan’s Fine Books.
“I’m not surprised Amazon came in because they saw a need here for new books,” she said.
Despite its booming retail, dining and arts scene and its state-of-the-art public library, the city lacks a book store where shoppers can browse the shelves for the latest bestseller or newest cook book. The nearest general interest bookstores are in Concord, Danville, Lafayette, Orinda and San Ramon.
Two decades ago, Walnut Creek had an outpost of Books, Inc., a longtime San Francisco-based independent book store chain. It also had national chains like Crown Books and a Barnes & Noble, which closed last year. There used to be a Borders in neighboring Pleasant Hill.
Pegasus Books, a Berkeley-based indie chain that sold new and used books, closed its Walnut Creek location in the mid-90s. Rising rents and declining sales forced out Bonanza Books, another new and used bookseller, in 2008.
Those rents are likely to blame for the absence of bookstores in Walnut Creek, according to Calvin Crosby, executive director of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, which supports and promotes indie booksellers.
High rents are “the hardest obstacle” facing bookstores throughout the Bay Area, Crosby said, explaining those costs — coupled with payroll expenses — can eat up bookstores’ relatively small profit margins. Annual rental rates in downtown Walnut Creek averaged between $30 and $90 per square foot at the end of 2016, according to John Cumbelich and Associates, a Walnut Creek commercial real estate firm. Rents in Broadway Plaza, where Amazon will set up shop, are between $80 and $140 per square foot.
Swan, who opened her roughly 1,000-square foot antiquarian shop nearly four years ago at the rear of a building on Locust Street, doesn’t see Amazon as a threat. Barnes & Noble wasn’t much of one, either.
“We’re totally different things,” she said, distinguishing between Amazon and her store, which stocks everything from rare handmade artists’ books to first editions of modern classics, including Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” and Jack London’s “White Fang.”
In addition to buying and selling books, Swan hosts lectures given by local experts on a range of literary topics. There are also occasional author signings, poetry readings and a book club that reads the classics.
Amazon Books, according to its website, utilizes customer ratings, pre-orders, sales and other metrics to choose the books it will carry. It also uses its brick-and-mortar locations to push sales of the company’s Kindle e-reader and other electronic devices.
Regardless of its ultimate strategy, Amazon, Swan said, will feed a need in the community. She welcomes more book stores in Walnut Creek, especially if they’re independent.
“I love to engender the love of books in people,” Swan said.