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Women And Children First And 16 Other Local Bookstores Get Tough On Amazon

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Photo: Woman and Children First Facebook

With Amazon opening its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle and two additional stores coming soon to San Diego and Portland, the corporation is currently eying Chicago’s Southport corridor for their Midwest premier.

Amazon Book’s likely arrival to Chicago is making many local, independent book sellers in the area such as Women and Children first Bookstore see red. Together, 17 bookstores in the city and suburbs have united, releasing a statement that explains why small, local retailers are very different from what the corporate giant is trying to do.

Women And Children First at 5233 N Clark St. in Andersonville went one step further by decking out their window display to showcase how Amazon’s growth could potentially affect you and your community.

In the statement put out by the coalition of local bookstores, Sarah Hollenbeck, who is co-owner of Women & Children First, said “Chicago’s independent bookstore community works hard to bring authors to Chicago, as well as to highlight local authors and work with local businesses. Events held in our stores strengthen community bonds, as well as provide safe spaces where people can meet, share ideas, and debate issues.”

The statement also includes staggering statistics from a report Co-sponsored by the American Booksellers Association and the research firm Civic Economics. According to that report, Amazon sold $44.1 billion worth of retail goods nationwide in 2014 while avoiding $625 million in state and local sales taxes. It also found that Amazon sales produced a net loss of 135,973 retail jobs even after factoring in the 30,000 full-time workers and 104,000 part-time and seasonal workers at their distribution spaces.

The statement concluded with Bookends & Beginnings in Evanston saying, “What’s largely invisible is the price we’re really paying for that kind of convenience, if we ignore the likely consequences of Amazon’s snowballing monopolistic practices.”

The Full Statement reads:

In response to news that Amazon will open a brick-and-mortar store in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago next year, the independent bookstores of Chicago and the Chicago area unite to issue the following joint statement.

The Amazon announcement represents an opportunity to expand the conversations indie booksellers have been having for years with customers about sustainable publishing, bookselling, and retailing, as well as sustainable communities. Sarah Hollenbeck, co-owner of Women & Children First in Andersonville, explains that “Chicago’s independent bookstore community works hard to bring authors to Chicago, as well as to highlight local authors and work with local businesses. Events held in our stores strengthen community bonds, as well as provide safe spaces where people can meet, share ideas, and debate issues.”

Whereas Amazon’s initial choice to sell books was largely for the purpose of collecting customer data, independent bookstores pride themselves on serving customers who read voraciously and eclectically and on using books to create a conversation with customers and their communities. Booksellers get to know their customers so that they are able to make personal recommendations that enrich and sometimes change people’s lives. In addition, independent bookstores collect–and have always collected–full sales taxes as required by law, thereby supporting schools, fire and police departments, and state and local governments generally. Amazon has also begun collecting and paying sales taxes, after being forced to by lawsuits and negative public opinion.

Industry experts speculate that the purpose of brick-and-mortar Amazon stores is to continue to collect information that would aid Amazon in future non-book sales endeavors. To Chicago’s independent bookstores, customers are not just instruments for data collection to enable future sales; rather, customer support is the lifeblood that helps sustain both the stores and the vital communities those stores create.

Booksellers also cite the recent study “Amazon and Empty Storefronts,” a report issued in January 2016 that quantified, for the first time, how billions of dollars’ worth of Amazon sales are rapidly imperiling the future of brick-and-mortar downtowns and viable shopping districts, along with the property taxes, employment opportunities, social engagement, and the sense of “place” that small businesses provide in their communities.

Co-sponsored by the American Booksellers Association and the research firm Civic Economics, the report was designed to provide policymakers and consumers with a better understanding of the effect at the state and local levels of the growth of online retail as a substitute for storefront purchases. At the national level, its findings are staggering:

• In 2014, Amazon sold $44.1 billion worth of retail goods nationwide, all while avoiding $625 million in state and local sales taxes.

• That is the equivalent of 31,000 retail storefronts, 107 million square feet of commercial space, which might have paid $420 million in property taxes.

• A total of more than $1 billion in revenue lost to state and local governments, $8.48 for every household in America.

• Amazon also operated 65 million square feet of distribution space, employing roughly 30,000 full-time workers and 104,000 part-time and seasonal workers.

• Even counting all the jobs in Amazon distribution centers, Amazon sales produced a net loss of 135,973 retail jobs.

According to an earlier Civic Economics study called “Local Works!”, dollars spent in locally owned businesses continue to circulate locally and enrich that community. For every $100 spent in a locally owned business, $68 stays in that community; but for every $100 spent in non-local businesses, only $43 stays in the community. Over a period of years, that $25 difference can mean millions of dollars siphoned away from local communities to corporate headquarters.

Amazon is known for its low prices and convenience. However, as booksellers at Bookends & Beginnings in Evanston point out, “What’s largely invisible is the price we’re really paying for that kind of convenience, if we ignore the likely consequences of Amazon’s snowballing monopolistic practices.” In Illinois alone, the numbers are shocking. The study estimates that in 2014, Amazon sold more than$1.8 billion worth of retail goods in Illinois. That is the equivalent of 1,289 retail storefronts, 4.5 million square feet of commercial space, which might have paid $23.6 million in property taxes and more than $59.8 million in revenue lost to state and local governments. Even counting all the jobs in Amazon distribution centers, Civic Economics finds that Amazon sales produced a net loss of 7,802 retail jobs in Illinois.

The list of Chicago and Chicago-area stores, as well as our regional booksellers’ association, endorsing this statement:

57th Street Books, 1301 E. 57th St., Chicago
Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, Inc., 824 W. Superior St., Ste. 100, Chicago
Anderson’s Book Shop, Naperville, Downers Grove, and La Grange
The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago
The Book Stall at Chestnut Court, 811 Elm St., Winnetka
The Book Table, 1045 Lake Street, Oak Park
Bookends & Beginnings, 1712 Sherman Ave., Rear 1, Evanston
City Lit Books, 2523 N. Kedzie Blvd., Chicago
Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association, 2113 Roosevelt, Ypsilanti, MI
Lake Forest Bookstore, 662 N. Western Ave., 
Lake Forest
RoscoeBooks, 2142 W. Roscoe St., Chicago
Sandmeyer’s Bookstore, 714 S. Dearborn St., Chicago
Seminary Co-Op Bookstore, 5751 S. Woodlawn Ave., Chicago
Unabridged Books, 3251 N. Broadway, Chicago
Volumes Bookcafe, 1474 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago
Wicker Park Secret Agent Supply Co. / 826CHI, 1276 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago
Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark St., Chicago


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