Owner of Subterranean Books Details the Store's Uphill Battle to Stay Open
Kelly von Plonski, owner of Subterranean Books has posted a letter on the store's website addressing its bleak financial situation.
So, yes we are struggling.
2010 was a very difficult year, a shell game of sorts in order to get bills paid. And there just was not enough money to pay everything. This is not sustainable.
Sales were up in December and I thought maybe the tide had turned. But then January arrived and we were down 25%. If our sales for this January through June do not at least equal 2010’s January through June we will close. If we don’t reach at least that level of income there is simply not enough money coming in to keep our doors open.
The three major expenses in a book store are rent, payroll and inventory. We aren’t bloated in the staffing department so there’s nothing there we can cut. Our inventory is not top-loaded, meaning we don’t buy stacks of thirty to make pretty pyramids. Instead we buy just in time, gauging how many we’ll sell in a week and re-ordering for the new shipment to arrive just before the last copy sells. That leaves rent. We asked for a rent reduction but were turned down. This doesn’t make our landlord a bad person. I’m sure she has a dollar number that she needs to hit every month to keep her bills paid, and decreasing our rent would cut away from that.
The problem is that the sales we generate in our current location are not commensurate with the rent we’re paying. So our options are to either generate more sales or move to a location with cheaper rent. Moving is an intriguing and exciting option, but we don’t have the many thousands of dollars that a proper build-out would require. If there are any interested investors out there we would love to hear from you.
Which leads us back to generating more sales, and our survey. The survey was our first step in trying to figure out what we’re doing well and what needs improvement. The first step in trying to earn back sales from folks who might have left. There are lessons and ideas that we will be carefully considering and thank you to everyone who responded. It is a tremendous help.
My major concern is that it won’t be enough. What might have been enough in sales when we opened 10 years ago is not necessarily enough now. (Our rent goes up every year and so is considerably higher than when we started.) Have we reached the threshold of what a bookstore in University City can support? I just don’t know.