Area booksellers oppose new Amazon location

By Arts & Culture Reporter

Local independent bookstores are expressing frustration with online shipping giant Amazon’s plans for a brick-and-mortar bookstore set to open in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood in 2017.

The owners of Andersonville’s Women and Children First bookstore, 5233 N. Clark St., showed their discontent Sept. 1 with a cardboard sign in the shop’s storefront window, displaying a chart outlining Amazon’s effects on  small businesses.

Sarah Hollenbeck, co-owner of Women and Children First—one of the last independent feminist bookstores in the country—noticed she and her co-workers were not the only concerned retailers.

“The support from the community has been really overwhelming,” Hollenbeck said. “A lot of our customers have come forward and pledged to only shop at independent bookstores and never step foot in Amazon books. That’s been really uplifting and inspiring.”

Nationally, booksellers have protested Amazon’s effect on small, independent booksellers. The American Booksellers Association, in collaboration with Civic Economics, an economic analysis firm, analyzed Amazon’s impact in a January 2016 study titled  “Amazon and Empty Storefronts.”The study found nearly 8,000 jobs were displaced in Illinois after Amazon sales wrested away market share from storefront bookstores.

According to John Boatright, a business ethics professor at Loyola University Chicago, Amazon may be economically, but not ethically, responsible for the demise of  bookstores. “Essentially, [Amazon is] following how capitalism develops,” Boatright explained. “A company’s entry that drives out business [isn’t] necessarily a violation.”

Mark Thomas, former owner of novelty store The Alley, understands the struggles of being a small business owner. The Alley, which served punks, goths and rockers for more than 30 years in Lakeview, closed its doors in January after nearby construction and internet shopping wreaked havoc on the business. 

“There is no question that Amazon is a disrupter and is destroying small businesses,” Thomas said. “There is no law that can stop it. Every bookstore in the city can unite, and everybody can protest against it, but there’s no effective means to stop them.”

Bob Roschke, owner of Bookworks, 3444 N. Clark St., said his store is  closing in mid-October after a high rent increase. Roschke said he favors tax breaks to ease the struggles of small, independent bookstore owners. 

“The only way small businesses can survive is going to be through some tax-subsidy for the business owner to keep them there or some sort of recognition by the city,” Roschke said. “That’s a pipe dream I can’t imagine happening.” 

Despite the fear surrounding the news of the future Amazon bookstore, Hollenbeck is confident Women and Children First will continue to thrive.

“We’re one of the last feminist bookstores in the country, and this niche really has been an asset to why we’re doing so well,” Hollenbeck said. “[Our customers] feel they are putting money into a great cause, and no one can say that when they shop at Amazon.”

Amazon could not be reached for comment as of press time.

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