San Diego's Independent Booksellers Thrive In Shadow Of Online Retailers
TOM FUDGE: You are listening to Midday Edition on KPBS. I'm Tom Fudge. Long, long, ago in a galaxy far, far away well, actually, it was just Clairemont a bookstore called Mysterious Galaxy was found, catering to the multiple and often eccentric taste of fans of science fiction. Since then, it has thrived. In fact, this month, they moved into a new and larger San Diego location also in Clairemont. You always wonder how independent bookstores can remain financially healthy in the age of Amazon. Well, joining me to provide some answers to that and a galaxy of other questions is Maryelizabeth Hart. She is co owner of Mysterious Galaxy bookstore. And thank you very much for coming in. MARYELIZABETH HART: Absolutely. Thank you for having me. TOM FUDGE: Did you ever see the movie You've Got Mail? MARYELIZABETH HART: I could probably occupy our entire segment with a rant about why I loathe that movie. Yes. TOM FUDGE: Well, it's a and I'll let you do that, but I just wanted to explain to those who haven't seen it, it was a David and Goliath movie about the little independent bookstore going up against a chain. Well, Borders went out of business, and it seems like the chains aren't so much of a threat. But why was it that you disliked that movie so much? MARYELIZABETH HART: Well, I disliked it on a personal level as a woman, because I felt that the love story cheated. I thought that the idea that the Tom Hanks could lie to the Meg Ryan character so much, and she would still decide that he was the one for her was kind of appalling. I also felt that the presentation of the David versus Goliath was very unfair and unbalanced. For example, the only time you see anyone purchasing anything in the independent bookstore is actually when Hanks makes a purchase when he's trying to get Ryan's character's attention. You don't actually see it being a healthy, thriving, viable business so why mourn its loss when it doesn't seem to actually be functional? TOM FUDGE: Okay, well more on that later, but first of all, San Diegans who have never been to Mysterious Galaxy, how would you describe your store? MARYELIZABETH HART: Um, our tag line is "Books of Martians, Murder, Magic and Mayhem" and more. And we are a specialty independent genre store. So while we, um, work to serve the San Diego community of book lovers at large, we really have a dedicated focus on mystery, science fiction, suspense, horror, um, including kids books in those areas and TOM FUDGE: And MARYELIZABETH HART: and that's what our staff is passionate about. TOM FUDGE: Were you a fan of science fiction when you were young or younger? MARYELIZABETH HART: I went back and forth between science fiction and mystery. Um, some of the earliest books I read were my father's Alfred Hitchcock anthology [sic] collection. Shortly, thereafter, I discovered, you know, rag Wagon Train to the Stars, watched the original Star Trek with him, so my family had a large influence on me. TOM FUDGE: And, uh, Ray Bradbury, did you have other favorite authors? MARYELIZABETH HART: Ray Bradbury, absolutely, was hugely influential. Um, one of, uh, my long time favorite authors is recent National Book Award winner, uh, recipient, Ursula K. Le Guin who is just astonishing and transformative and fabulous. I enjoy a great many contemporary writers who I probably won't try to name because I'll inevitably leave someone important out. TOM FUDGE: Well, um, why did you have to move? MARYELIZABETH HART: We had to move because we couldn't TARDIS people into our store for our big event anymore or TARDIS our selection of books in and TOM FUDGE: You, you couldn't MARYELIZABETH HART: for those of you who maybe don't speak Doctor Who geek, the TARDIS is his travelling British telephone booth which is larger on the inside than the outside. And we had been really, really out of space in our location on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard for a while, but we're continuing to make the best of it, and we're delighted to have this opportunity to move and to expand both for our customers, um, for events and also for our inventory. TOM FUDGE: So it sounds like these events and book signings among other things, I guess, had gotten so big you just didn't didn't have room for them? MARYELIZABETH HART: Yes. We, we well, we just couldn't fit everybody in the store who would want to attend. For example, we had Patrick Rothfuss at the McGrath location not too long before we moved, and it was above and beyond standing room only. We had people who were not able to hear him speak to the group because we just had filled the store and then some. TOM FUDGE: And, uh MARYELIZABETH HART: Don't tell the fire marshall. TOM FUDGE: Okay. I won't. And I'm sure he's not listening. MARYELIZABETH HART: I hope. TOM FUDGE: My guest is Maryelizabeth Hart. She's co owner of Mysterious Galaxy bookstore which focuses on mystery and science fiction and they're moving into a bigger location now in the neighborhood of Clairemont. So what is MARYELIZABETH HART: Actually, we moved. In a single day. TOM FUDGE: I'm sorry. You have MARYELIZABETH HART: It's okay. TOM FUDGE: moved already. MARYELIZABETH HART: We have moved. TOM FUDGE: That's correct. MARYELIZABETH HART: We, we started out on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard at 8 a.m. on Sunday, December 6th, and we had registers open for business and a significant portion, although not all, of the inventory in place in our new location on Balboa by two o'clock p.m. when we hosted author Gini Koch for an in store event. TOM FUDGE: Okay. And you're at the corner of Balboa and Clairemont Clairemont Drive? MARYELIZABETH HART: We're at the corner of Balboa and Mt. Abernathy actually. TOM FUDGE: Okay. Well, one of the reasons we wanted to have you on the show, I guess, is to sort of look at ask you what's the secret of your success. I mean, it's gotta be a challenge for independent bookstores really, any bookstore to keep going in this age of Amazon. What kind of, uh, what kind of a bookstore do you have and why do you think it's successful? MARYELIZABETH HART: Um, much as I would like to claim to have a secret or claim for it receive a claim for that, the, the good news is that while there's certainly no question that it's a challenge, that it's daunting, that it can be difficult to fight the big Internet retail bully. Um, overall, independent retailers and independent book sellers, in particular, are actually experiencing a modest resurgence. There's been growth in the member stores and in the number of number of locations, um, in the American Booksellers Association which, um, comprises independent booksellers primarily, but also some other bricks and mortar stores over the last five years. And, um, bookstores themselves have been seeing a modest increase in books sales and part of that is what we can offer beyond an algorithm. TOM FUDGE: Well and I was gonna ask you, is Mysterious Galaxy a place where people go to buy books and then leave, or is it a place where people go to find a community or people of like mind? MARYELIZABETH HART: It's a little bit of both. And the other thing that people find with us is new books. Um, you know, curation and community are huge aspects of what we can offer in a bricks and mortar store which is not something that you can get from an online experience. Um, we, you know, are, are hugely passionate about our particular genres, as I mentioned, and, um, we love to share what we're enthusiastic about with fellow readers. Uh, and, you know, that holds true across the board for independent bookstores, you know. There's a significantly larger chance of discovery for a reader coming into a bookstore and engaging a bookseller than shopping online. TOM FUDGE: Well, you're a niche bookstore; is that typical of other bookstores that have done well? MARYELIZABETH HART: I don't think so. I think it holds across the board. I you know, different bookstores have different communities that they serve, um, and, uh, and we, um although we have our niche focus, we actually do participate in the greater literary community as well whether it's things like working with KPBS in the libraries on things like One Book, One San Diego, whether it's going out into the community and bookselling at special events. We recently were the booksellers for the 20th annal annual bu Jewish book festival. Because we are independent and because we're small, we have a certain ability to be nimble and be responsive in other ways to our community. And then we go hang out once a year with 150,000 of our closest friends at Comic Con. So, you know, it covers an array. TOM FUDGE: Do you sell speaking of Comic Con, do you sell comic books at Mysterious Galaxy? MARYELIZABETH HART: We don't generally. We have a small selection of comic collections and graphic novels, but, um, we would rather work in partnership with some of our neighboring independent retailers than competition. And we're very fortunate because in our immediate Clairemont area someone who is enthusiastic about pros genre pros and comics and games can visit us, can visit Comickaze, and can visit Game Empire. So Game Empire sells games, but doesn't carry a lot of game tie in books. They'd rather we sold those. Um, we don't sell dice. Comickaze carries a small selection of associated pros by authors who also write comics, people like Neil Gaiman and Gregg Hurwitz, but once again, they don't have an extensive collection, and we'd all rather support each other than TOM FUDGE: Yeah MARYELIZABETH HART: divvy up the pie. TOM FUDGE: I, I guess I was wondering if you sold comic books because, you know, that is something that, I guess, brings people back, you know, because they come back to, uh, to get the newest edition of the comic, but, I guess, that's not something you necessarily do. MARYEL1IZABETH HART: Oh, absolutely. How many Robert B. Parker books have there been, you know. Spenser is still being told even though Bob Parker is, unfortunately, no longer with us TOM FUDGE: Right MARYELIZABETH HART: I mean TOM FUDGE: but you're talking about MARYELIZABETH HART: it may be TOM FUDGE: You're talking about novels, not comic books? MARYELIZABETH HART: Right. TOM FUDGE: Okay. MARYELIZABETH HART: It it may be TOM FUDGE: But it's the same thing? MARYELIZABETH HART: something that comes out yearly rather than monthly or a couple of times a year, but people are passionate about series, you know. One of, um one of our long traditions that we, uh, are sad to not be able to continue, but have adapted to, is Charlaine Harris who created the Sookie Stackhouse, uh, character was a part of our annual birthday party every May for years and years. She wrapped up that series and now she's doing a wonderful new trilogy set in Midnight, Texas, and, uh, we got to do her launch party this year instead. TOM FUDGE: Is she, uh, a San Diego author? MARYELIZABETH HART: She's not. She actually lives in Texas now. She was originally living in Arkansas. TOM FUDGE: Okay. So you know people all over the country it sounds like MARYELIZABETH HART: We know people all over the world. TOM FUDGE: You know people. [Chuckling] MARYELIZABETH HART: We we have a great working relationship with, um, publicists, publishers and authors, you know. It's really to use the word community again, a community endeavor, you know. There there are people who are invested and conducting readers and authors, and enabling Mysterious Galaxy to be a venue for that. TOM FUDGE: My guest is Maryelizabeth Hart. She's co owner of Mysterious Galaxy bookstore which has just opened a new location. A bigger location in, in Clairemont. Um, what about you know, I was talking with Beth Accomando who you may know. She's one of our reporters. And she was talking about an event you had where you had a person who was self published. And this was not a big author, but she was self published and she came to Mysterious Galaxy, and you did an event for her, a self published author. MARYELIZABETH HART: Well, sure. I mean, we have no bias against Indie authors. We're happy to work with them as long as they're working with us on traditional retail terms. This is the main thing. It's, you know, um we've had a number of local independent authors. We actually hold local author meet and greet event two to three times a year which offers a lot of local independent or self published or micropublished authors. Sometimes not even in our focus of genres. An opportunity to come in and meet with readers. TOM FUDGE: So I suppose you've been there long enough to know, um and you've been there have you been there from the beginning, since 1993? MARYELIZABETH HART: Yes. TOM FUDGE: Okay. MARYELIZABETH HART: The Terry Gilman and I are the founders of the store. TOM FUDGE: And do you see a lot of the same people coming back, some people that you may have seen 20 years ago? MARYELIZABETH HART: Certainly. But the good news is we also see new faces, you know. One of my hats that I wear is that of publicity manager, and early on someone would come in and they'd say, "Oh, I just discovered your store because I came in to see Jonathan Maberry. I never knew you were here." And my initial response was to despair, to think I'm not doing my job, but eventually realize that's fabulous news. Every new person who comes in and says, "I didn't know you were here before," means we haven't saturated our pool. We still have people who can discover us. We still have growth opportunity. TOM FUDGE: I guess one last question I wanted to ask you about sort of competition in the big marketplace. What about e books, is that a trend that concerns you and other booksellers? MARYELIZABETH HART: I actually was just reading my e book on my Kobo in the greenroom prior to coming in here. For most of our customers, myself included, it seems to be a question of and? We actually have a website. We can sell you an e book. You can go there and you can download it. One of the great things that I've discovered personally through e books is I've rediscovered a love of short stories. So it's and it's not, um, proving to be sort of the, you know, thing that killed Vaudeville that people predicted. TOM FUDGE: Okay. So e books don't freak you out? MARYELIZABETH HART: No. TOM FUDGE: All right. MARYELIZABETH HART: We embrace e books actually. TOM FUDGE: All right. Well, my guest has been Maryelizabeth Hart. She's co owner of Mysterious Galaxy, an sci fi, mystery and horror, I guess, bookstore in San Diego which now has a new bigger location. Thanks very much for coming in. MARYELIZABETH HART: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Tom. TOM FUDGE: And coming up we're going to talk about books a little bit more. T. Jefferson Parker, San Diego author, will be joining us to talk about his new book, so stay tuned.
The fluctuating economy and rise of online shopping could spell doom for a bookseller like Mysterious Galaxy. But the independent bookstore in San Diego is not only staying in business, it's thriving.
Mysterious Galaxy's co-owner Maryelizabeth Hart said there are signs "indie" bookstores are on the rise. She said that's because people have a greater understanding of what their choices are and where to shop and many choose to shop where their dollars make an impact. That usually means they want to spend in their own community.
"At the end of the day, people really like the experience," Hart said. "Every reader who comes into our shop already has something in common with us, a passion for the same type of books."
Mysterious Galaxy opened in 1993 and recently moved to its fourth location just off Balboa and Genesee avenues in Clairemont. The new location offers more than 3,200 feet of floor space for books, including signed first editions.