With the closing of Lynnwood Books this week, another chapter has concluded in the saga of independent bookstores and their struggle to survive.
After 15 years, owner Mark Kagi has shuttered his shop in the QFC-anchored strip mall at the intersection of 76th Avenue West and 196th Street Southwest on the Lynnwood/Edmonds border. A “golden decade” followed by a decline in sales that began five years ago and accelerated two years later, prompted the closure, according to Kagi, 73.
“The digital world has impacted the book world immensely. But not how you might think,” noted the former professor of public administration at Seattle University who took early retirement in 1988. “We’ve moved to a culture that no longer transmits information through books. Reference books, animal-breed books, cooking, health — all that information has been shifted to free information on the Internet.”
People simply aren’t buying as many books as they used to said Kagi, who worked a $4.25-an-hour job at B. Dalton Bookseller to learn the ropes before opening his own store. “That doesn’t necessarily mean they are reading less,” he said, “just buying less.”
The buying of books through Internet giants such as Amazon.com hurts “indies” but not to the extent people think, Kagi said. Readers, he explained, still want to see, touch and browse through books.
Emphasis on book sales by the big retailers such as Kroger, which owns QFC, may be dealing small bookstores a bigger blow, Kagi said. “The new hardbacks generally are too expensive for retail bookstores to sell,” he noted. Supermarket chains and “big-box” stores such as Costco and Wal-Mart, though, can slash prices of new releases 40 percent and still make a profit.
Kagi lauds the personalized and innovative services of independent book purveyors such as Edmonds Bookshop, which he says does a good job of attracting loyal customers. He added that small specialized bookstores such as those that sell only mysteries still have a fighting chance of being successful.
Mary Kay Sneeringer, co-owner with her husband of Edmonds Bookshop, said she will miss Kagi. “He’s such an expert on non-fiction and such a good reader,” she noted. Sneeringer said she often referred customers to Lynnwood Books when she didn’t have the book they sought.
Kagi said it’s his customers he’ll miss the most. “People who shop in the neighborhood book shop are wonderful people,” he observed, adding he’s “only had three bounced checks in 15 years — 15 wonderful years.”
The all-time bestsellers at his shop over the years? For adults, “Winter Wheat” by Mildred Walker and for children, Robert McCloskey’s “Make Way for Ducklings.”
He doesn’t know what business will fill the space he rented in Vaughn Center, which is owned by his wife, Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Lake Forest Park. “By the way, I had to pay full rent — no deals,” he quipped.
Emphysema and chronic bronchitis have slowed him physically, but Kagi has resorted to a Segway Human Transporter to get around. He’s gained some notoriety as the guy who “hikes” trails such as Hurricane Ridge on his futuristic scooter.
Kagi said he’ll continue to be an avid reader of books “across the board,” both fiction and non-fiction. He was hard-pressed to name his favorite title but singled out Wallace Stegner’s “Angle of Repose” as one of them.
Maybe, the former political-science teacher wryly suggested, “I’ll become an existentialist. Not set goals. Just ‘be’.”