East Valley bookstores are holding their own — and even expanding — in spite of growing Internet sales and a slump in the nation's overall book sales.
Book giant Barnes & Noble plans to open another store next spring in Mesa at the northwest corner of Val Vista Drive and Baseline Road.
But booksellers are having to work hard — and creatively — to connect with East Valley readers through special events, such as ones planned in conjunction with the 12:01 a.m. Saturday release of the latest Harry Potter tale.
Changing Hands in Tempe expects a crowd Friday in anticipation of the release and plans to entertain Harry Potter fans with Renaissance Festival performers, jesters and jugglers.
The Potter series has made readers of kids who weren't readers before and sparked a unique community of readers, said Cindy Dach, who handles marketing and events for Changing Hands. "That's good business," she said.
The industry could use a good dose of that. Book sales for the year are down 8.4 percent compared with 2002, according to the American Booksellers Association.
So far this year, the percentage of books bought in traditional bookstores (as opposed to the Internet, mass merchandisers price clubs and other retailers) has fallen to 38 percent from 50 percent in 1998.
Meanwhile, Internet book sales, including those of e-giant Amazon, have reached 8.5 percent, compared to just 1 percent of the total in 1998. After losing market share every year since 1990, independent bookstores have held steady at 15 percent since 1999.
Independent bookseller Changing Hands is managing to do better in sales than last year, although not as well as 2001, Dach said.
The store makes an effort to do "community outreach" through events, including talks and signings by authors. Writing a book is something great and deserves to be celebrated, she said.
Hethyre Baez of Tempe, who was shopping at Changing Hands on a recent afternoon with her two daughters, said she appreciates the store's sense of community.
"It has a very hometown feel," she said. The size of the children's book section is manageable and not overwhelming, she said. Baez said her husband bought her a copy of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" elsewhere, to be delivered on Saturday.
Another independent bookstore, the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, specializes in mysteries. Poisoned Pen hosts several authors a week. The store expanded its inventory slightly beyond mysteries to better compete, said Patrick Millikin, customer service manager at store, located at 4014 N. Goldwater Blvd. For example, it is also selling the latest Harry Potter book.
Overall sales at the Poisoned Pen are holding strong, and 2002 was a record year, recession notwithstanding, Millikin said. If all goes according to plan, sales this year should at least match last year, he said.
Like the independents, chain stores such as Borders and Barnes & Noble hope to get a boost from the Harry Potter release and have special events planned. Those include crafts for kids at the Tempe Borders and a midnight magician's party at the Chandler Barnes & Noble.
Mark Panza, manager of Borders in Tempe, said each Borders is unique in its customer base and emphasis. The Tempe store, for example, caters to the students and faculty at Arizona State University as well as people who work and live in Tempe, he said.
Paul Pogany, community relations manager at Barnes & Noble in Chandler, said discussion groups such as a young readers' workshop and a self-help book group have have proven popular.