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VOL. 132 | NO. 12 | Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Student Petitions to Save Booksellers

By Andy Meek

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Support continues to pour in for Booksellers at Laurelwood, Memphis’ largest independent bookstore that announced recently it is set to close next month.

Shoppers immediately flocked to the store, which has hung large closing signs in its windows and begun a liquidation sale. A competitor, Burke’s Book Store, issued a rallying cry – a long statement, to be exact – encouraging the community to do what it can to help keep the store open and to support independent bookstores.

And a 17-year-old senior at White Station High School decided to start a petition.

White Station student Emmett Miskell took to the popular petition website change.org to gather community support and specifically signatures as a kind of last-ditch effort to help keep the store open. At press time, he’d garnered more than 2,600 signatures for the petition he’s delivering to stakeholders like the bookstore’s owner and Laurelwood leasing agents, among others.

“I’ve been going to Booksellers since I was 4 years old, and it’s always been my favorite bookstore,” Miskell tells The Daily News. “To me, and many others, Booksellers is more than a store. It’s a safe-haven for book readers and Bistro lovers alike. There’s pretty much nowhere else in Memphis where new-release books are sold in such a massive, independent bookstore. I also love Booksellers because they are dedicated to supporting the local community.

“I’ve heard from dozens of people who have told me about how Booksellers was the first bookstore where their book was sold and where they held their first book signing. The outpouring of love from the community displays the deep level of importance that Booksellers has in our community.”

For him, the store is several things wrapped up in one: a meeting place, a restaurant, a quiet getaway, a place to browse, a store and more.

“Unfortunately,” Miskell writes on the page for his petition, “Neil Van Uum, the current owner of Booksellers, has decided that it’s time to close the doors for good in February. While I understand Mr. Van Uum’s reasoning behind wanting to close the store and appreciate his efforts in keeping the store open thus far, I firmly believe that there is more that can be done to keep the store open.”

Actions he’s encouraging book-lovers to take, in addition to signing the petition at https://www.change.org/p/neil-van-uum-save-booksellers-at-laurelwood-from-closing, include sharing the petition on social media to help spread the word using the hashtag #MemphisGetsLit and coming up with any creative ideas to improve the business of local bookstores in Memphis.

Booksellers sent out a statement earlier this month announcing the closure, attributing it to factors that include untenable economics and a decline in sales. Van Uum told The Daily News the 25,000-square-foot store, which employs about 50 people, will likely stay open through the end of February.

Burke’s, even though it’s a competitor, sent a letter to customers about the Booksellers at Laurelwood encouraging them to take action. It reads, in part:

“Memphis needs independent bookstores and specifically needs one in that area of Memphis. If you share this idea and believe in it and are willing to commit to it with your time and money by shopping at a local bookstore, then let your voice be heard. It isn’t always easy or convenient to make the choice to shop small and local bookstores, but it truly makes a difference. The money stays local. People keep their jobs. And, most important, books get read!

“10 years ago Burke’s Book Store was facing similar problems. We were literally on the edge, inches away from having to close our doors. But you saved us. Customers opened their hearts and wallets, real estate friends found us a new and better location, people pitched in to help us move, and we are still here. Now we are asking you to help these members of our bookselling family.”

At the bottom of the letter, Burke’s added a link to Miskell’s petition.

PROPERTY SALES 74 196 20,828
MORTGAGES 86 244 23,989
BUILDING PERMITS 138 453 43,046
BANKRUPTCIES 64 174 13,354