What do you get when you pair one independent bookselling legend with another venerable institution? The answer comes in the form of the recent announcement that 115-year-old Vroman’s (based in Pasadena) the oldest indie book store in southern California has signed an agreement to acquire Book Soup, the eclectic 34-year-old West Hollywood indie shop known for its deep stock of inventory and lively readings. For years — even before the Great Recession flattened retail sales in general and book selling in particular — small independent bookstores have had a hard time of it as they’ve navigated a collision course with large chain retailers, Amazon, and even Costco and Wal-Mart. A number of booksellers have gone under. In April, the 20-year-old Cook’s Library in Los Angeles went out of business. Last year, the Bay Area institution Cody’s finally called it a day after more than a half a century, and this past spring, Stacey’s Bookstore, the 85-year-old San Francisco shop, announced it too was shuttering its doors.
According to the American Booksellers Assn., a trade organization made up of independents, based in Tarrytown, N.Y., in 1993 there were 4,700 indies. Last year, that number had fallen to 1,600. This small business merger offers a bright spot in an otherwise bleak trend and a possible alternative fate to stand alone book sellers across the country.