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Are books dead? Cleveland independent bookstores continue to adapt in the digital age

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Posted at 9:00 AM, Apr 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-22 09:00:52-04

Some may say books are dead and the shelves that house them are obsolete.

The digitalization of anything printed, from books to newspapers, has changed the way readers digest information and consequently, the way consumers buy books.

Bookstores used to be regular fixtures in communities, as American as conveniences stores and diners. Many have closed their doors, while continue to thrive in an era when the very definition of "books" has changed.

Think Kindle, Nook, even Audible.com.

Here in Cleveland, a number of bookstores remain standing, providing actual books and experiences that the digital age can't diminish.

Loganberry Books

Thousands of old and new books from almost every author are meticulously categorized and shelved at Loganberry Books on Larchmere Avenue. Customers walking through the store can veer off into the many nooks and corners of the bookstore and find themselves immersed in children's' books, memorable biographies and historical revelations.

Inside Loganberry Books

Owner Harriet Logan started Loganberry Books back in 1994 with her own collection of books. In her 20 years in the book business her collection—gardening, children's books, nonfiction, and more—has grown to more than 100,000 books.

"I was always a fan of reading but even more than that, I liked the physical object of a book. I left grad school realizing I really liked books and didn't want to deal with the red tape of academia," Logan said.

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Since she first opened, Logan quadrupled her arsenal of books which is why she moved down the street to the current space. Tucked away in the back of the store, there is room Logan coined "Sanctuary" that houses rare poetry, adult fiction and children's books. Customers come to the store specifically for books in this section because most can not be found online.

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"Nostalgia doesn't die," Logan said. "What makes people nostalgic changes. I think books because of the personal connection, the empathy-driven narrative, and the eye-opening education they afford, always have a heart strings to pull.

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Compared to other regional cities, Logan said Cleveland stands out on the national book map because of renowned national authors and academic institutions in the city.

"We have great local authors, Michael Ruhlman, Mary Doria Russell and Paula McLain who live, work and network in Cleveland," said Logan.

Mac's Backs

Down the street in Coventry, perhaps one of the oldest bookstores still standing in Cleveland, is Mac's Backs Books, which opened in 1982. Its locations have changed over the years but the commitment to books hasn't.

Mac's Backs Books

Owner Suzanne DeGaetano said the bookstore has changed enormously since she opened along with her business partner Jim McSherry.

"There used to be numerous bookstores of all kinds: new, used, chains," said DeGaetano. "The arrival of Amazon and online selling changed all that. Of course, people now read and experience books a number of different ways: print, ebooks audio. A bestseller now may be split evenly between print and e-book sales, with a healthy amount of people downloading audio."

DeGaetano noticed changes closer to home when the large book Borders went out of business. People who frequented the store needed to fill a void, so they found independent bookstores as a new place to buy books.

"The 'buy local' movement cannot be overstated. It has been a huge cultural trend," DeGaetano said. "The independent retail community has really tried to communicate about how important neighborhood shops are."

The location of Mac's Backs Books contributes to its success because of the neighborhood priddes itself on locally made, niche businesses.

"This has resonated, especially in an area like Cleveland Heights. Our customers are educated about this issue: they know how important it is to shop locally. It keeps jobs in the area, contributes to the tax base and vitalizes neighborhoods with activities." - DeGaetano

Both Logan and DeGaetano have a presence online. At Loganberry Books, there is a monthly online book club where members receive books via mail. At Mac Backs Books, a sliver of the business comes from online sales.  She has increased their non-book items such as calendars, t-shirts and cards in an effort to reach a wider audience.

Booksellers bounce back

Across the country, independent bookstores are on the rise, according to Dan Cullen, senior strategy officer for the American Booksellers Association.

"While not every bookstore or community has seen this growth, the national trends are clear," said Cullen.

Logan said the sales she makes from her books are only half of her business and her approach to adapting in a changing time.

"Bookstores in our contemporary society are as much meeting grounds and community centers as they are literary grounds. Our events that we hold on a weekly basis are one way we bring in new customers and readers," said Logan.

Kaylyn Hlavaty covers news that's all about the pride we share in Cleveland. Have a story tip or idea? Drop her a line at kaylyn.hlavaty@wews.com or connect on Twitter: @kaylynhlavaty.