City Desk

Another Local Bookstore Casualty in the Making?

It's been a thoroughgoingly crappy year for local booksellers—first Karibu, then Olsson's. Now Vertigo Books, which moved from Dupont Circle to College Park in 2001 2000, has posted a plea for help to its customers:

Why are we struggling? It may be a perfect storm:

* Market forces have not been kind to independent businesses and competition from internet and chain booksellers is keen.
* DC area residents use the internet more than many areas.
* An entire generation has grown up believing that Barnes & Noble, Borders and Amazon are the only places to buy books and this matters in a college town.
* The area lacks a coherent Buy Local effort that makes consumers aware of the real cost of chains.

Sales in 2008 are down substantially over last year. Vertigo Books simply cannot survive only on good wishes and fond thoughts.

Update: Vertigo co-owner Bridget Warren explains that 2008 has generally been a down year for the store (which moved to College Park in 2000, not 2001 as I previously wrote). The numbers for July, for instance, were below those for July 2007, but "last summer was Harry Potter. Everybody's numbers were off for July." But though she declines to state a specific figure, Warren says that the falloff in revenues for the store in the past month have been much more precipitous, tracking with the general decline of the economy. That's a worry for Warren given the store's College Park clientele. "Students and families are going to be more recession-sensitive," she says.

As far as cost savings, Warren says, "anything we can cut has pretty much been cut." So she and co-owner Todd Stewart will look to see how the Christmas sales season pans out. And though she doesn't anticipate Vertigo closing its doors, the store's blog post was intended to deal clearly with people about how dire the stakes are.

"There was a sense of disappointment and dismay at the way Karibu and Olsson's closed down," she says. "I wanted people to be on alert."

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  • steve

    Years ago I went to Vertigo for the first time looking for a book that a friend had recommended. It was an obscure title and I remembered neither the name or the author. I gave a very brief description, and Todd and Bridget knew exactly what book I was looking for.

    We talked a little bit about books. The next time I returned I was greeted by name, and they had some recommendations based on what we had talked about. It is the only place I have purchased a book since.

    You can't get service--real knowledge about books--and a connection with community at the mega sellers. I hope they make it, and I'm glad they put out the alert.

  • Chris Kerr

    I've known and worked with Vertigo Books since its original incarnation off of Dupont Circle. The Washington D.C. area is blessed to have such knowledgeable, committed booksellers as Todd and Bridget in their community. Their bookselling sensibility is all too unique, and, frankly, endangered. They remain one of the preeminent politically informed and literary stores on the eastern seaboard. Within the publishing community they are deeply respected for their commitment to community service and the highest standards of literature. It would be an abiding shame if they were forced to quit the scene and Washington would be a poorer community for their absence.