Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Indie bookstore creates legitimate community

Wow, one of more inspiring stories about an artistic small business I've heard in awhile, from the Book Standard. Zinesters from the '80s, of course, will remember the legendary Atomic Books in Baltimore, which had to declare bankruptcy in 2000. Well, apparently two of their customers, newlyweds Rachel Whang and Benn Ray, loved the store so much that they took their wedding money and actually bought the place, recently celebrating their fourth anniversary of both the store and their marriage. And even better, the store is experiencing the kind of success it's never had in the past, basically because of the live events it's been sponsoring - karaoke nights, bizarre field trips, even a Stitch-n-Bitch type knitting group for local slackers. The result, according to the article, is that Atomic's customer base has turned from a dry statistical report into an active community, with the social aspects of being an Atomic customer now just as important as the things they have a chance to actually purchase there.

This gets me excited because this is exactly what I'm planning to do with this arts center here in Chicago I'm trying to open right now - that is, to invite our customers to be an active part of the center's operations, and to do things like lead our book discussion clubs, organize our family events, even help us book touring authors they want to see us sponsor. There's a fantastic book out there by Douglas Atkins called The Culting of Brands, which explains not only how to do such things with your own business but why it's so very important that you do so; I highly recommend it to other small-business owners who wish to create their own fervant customer communities.