While Sheldrake has been able to compete head-to-head with chains, that's not an option for every small business. That was the situation Dodds Book Shop faced when megabookstores began moving into the Belmont Shore area.
Dodds has been a fixture on Second Street since 1965; for the first six years, the bookstore operated under different ownership under the name Lordans. Current co-owner Kim Browning, 68, who has worked at the store for 30 years, describes Dodds as the quintessential independent bookstore, with a mix of bestsellers and hard-to-find books on topics of interest to Belmont Shore residents. Books on sailing make up a large part of the sports section, and there's no shortage of books on metaphysics.
Just before the 1996 holiday season, both Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores opened up shop in the area. While neither chain is on Second Street, both are within a five-minute drive in recently revamped outdoor shopping centers. "We felt an impact immediately," Browning says. "There was a significant drop in business."
Such a drop--which lasted for nearly two years--would be enough to send many small-business owners packing, but Browning said she knew the first thing she needed to do was stay in business.
"Most independents know if they can hang in [there] for two years, people will come back," Browning says. "But that's a long time to hang in there. We're just beginning to see people come back."
To draw customers, Dodds intensified its focus on topics their local clientele was interested in and worked to improve customer service. Dodds can't compete with the discounts the big chains offer on the latest Tom Clancy or John Grisham novels, but Browning contends she and her staff have a better feel for what people in Belmont Shore want to read.
Browning's staff is another key reason sales are recovering. All Dodds employees are full time, most are college graduates and all are avid readers. "That means we can do things the chains can't," Browning says. "[For example,] if you come in and say you have a 56-year-old uncle who likes this or that subject, we can recommend a book he'll like--and it probably won't be off the bestseller list."
Dodds is experiencing somewhat of a comeback, although the growth is not as consistent as it was in the pre-chain days. But things are getting better every month, Browning says--a good reason to keep hanging in there.