Bookman Bookwoman Steps It Up


By Pamela Sherborne

Bookman Bookwoman bookstore has been located in the same small eclectic retail area of Nashville for more than 15 years and, for most of those years, little has changed for this independent, used and rare bookstore business. Of course, book titles changed as they rose in popularity and then waned. Out-of-print and rare books passed through the doors as patrons bought them to complete a collection or just for the memories they possess. Classics remained staples and unique titles could always be found. Modern fiction, mystery and science fiction were doubled shelved on the hundreds of shelves.

These things still remain.

But the winds of change swept through the bookstore’s front door in 2011 and Saralee Woods, who runs her family-owned business, did not sweep them out. Instead, she grasped the changes and turned them into opportunities.

The print industry had been taking a hit. The growing e-book market and aggressive online companies were creating havoc on large chain bookstores and independents ones equally across the country. In Nashville, the first thing that happened was the announcement and subsequent closing of a 30-year-old icon of Nashville bookstores, Davis-Kidd Booksellers. It closed December 2010. Then, at the first of 2011, the national chain Borders  announced it would close its Nashville location, which it did in early Spring. Since, Borders closed all its stores and no longer exists.

“We were sad that many of the bookstores carrying new books in Tennessee closed last year, but that was part of a national trend and not a reflection on our book- buying community,” Woods said.

Yet, the book-buying community of Bookman Bookwoman found few options when wanting to purchase newly released titles and bestsellers. The closest stores were in another county approximately 20 miles north or south. The one phone at Bookman Bookwoman started ringing off the hook, with callers asking whether the bookstore had this or that. Parents were scrambling to find school reads.

Woods had always carried some brand new books by local authors and for local book clubs, which gave her their reading lists. But, she had never undertaken the task of ordering new books, guessing what readers might want to read or not.

“We had been open more than 15 years and we were ready for more challenges and expanding our inventory to include a lot more new books just made sense,” she said. “It has been invigorating and fun to offer brand new books at 20 percent off the cover price to our customers. It makes Bookman Bookwoman unique and different, which is part of our success.” In addition, author events that had been scheduled for Davis-Kidd before it closed at the end of 2010 turned to her and asked if she could host them. Not to let an opportunity go past, she said yes.

And, literally, when one door closes, another does open. Woods hired a contractor to create an additional door in a wall of her shop to allow customers to continue to roam the store while an event was taking place. Two sets of shelves were removed to allow for more space. She began to seek out these special events. She updated her logo and website. She began reporting sales of new books to the New York Times bestsellers.

So, even in the midst of Vanderbilt University announcing a partnership with Barnes & Noble in the summer of 2011 to open a bookstore to include not only textbooks and course materials for students but also an array of other titles, Woods began ordering more and more new releases.

And even as Nashville local and national bestselling author Ann Pachett announced in late spring 2011 that she planned to help finance and open a new bookstore in Nashville, Woods was placing her brand new books on wooden bookshelves and rolling carts she purchased from Davis-Kidd during its liquidation sale. During this past Christmas holiday, she began ordering new children’s books.

Woods feels the re-opening of bookstores in Nashville is good for everyone. The Barnes & Noble at Vanderbilt University opened Oct. 31, 2011. Parnassus Books, Ann Pachett’s bookstore, opened November 16, 2011.

Woods doesn’t have a crystal ball; she doesn’t know how the decline of the paper book market will eventually resolve. “Tennessee is a community of readers and we welcome all bookstores,” she said. “It is all good. We have a unique business model in that we sell a mixture of new and used. When our customers come into our store, we frequently hear that they find new and gently used books that they never see anywhere else.

“We listen to our customers and also make daily recommendations about bookclub selections,” Woods added. She also special orders books for her customers.

Bookman Bookwoman really hasn’t changed what that bookstore set out to be. The business just expanded to meet customers’ needs. There are still used, first editions and rare and signed books, stacked high on top of the bookshelves and in every crook and crevice of the shop. New customers frequently spend hours among the shelves. Local customers strolling the area stop by to see what has been brought in over the last week. Those with young children let them run inside to pick out a free book off the cart intended just for that purpose.

Woods has started a new series of events called Notables where she is inviting local community leaders in to discuss their favorite books. These events are set for the first Thursday of each month when Hillsboro Village has its regular Art Walk. Woods’ customers aren’t oblivious to the e-book market, but they seem to find something in Bookman Bookwoman that they can’t find in a Nook or a Kindle or online.

They find kinship in their love of books.


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