German Village Gazette

Book Loft bucking industry trends

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No coffee. No lounge seating. No free Wi-Fi.

That's no problem for the Book Loft of German Village.

The independent book store has weathered every economic maelstrom and refused to relent to most industry trends in its 34 years in business.

Co-owner Roger Tompkins even brushes off a current challenger: the Kindle, the flat-screen electronic device that allows readers to download books, and similar devices.

"I think we have a different breed of book buyers," he said. "People seem to know what we are."

And another trend could be in its favor. Book giant Borders announced in February it would seek bankruptcy protection and close at least 200 stores. Two of those are in Columbus: one on Kenny Road and another on Sawmill Road. Even though they are on the northwest side of the city, their departure from the market could help the Book Loft, a purveyor of new releases, Tompkins said.

Where some stores have added elaborate cafs and seating areas to woo customers and provided them with wireless Internet to keep them, the Book Loft hasn't yielded to such impulses.

The owners have found a real niche market with closeouts, or "remainders" - books that haven't been selling well and are being liquidated by the publisher at greatly discounted prices.

Sales steadily have climbed since the doors were opened, Tompkins said. There is one thing that has affected business: the weather.

"This is the worst winter we've had in 34 years," he said. "I haven't seen anything like it."

Loitering isn't necessarily discouraged at the Book Loft, 631 S. Third St. The owners really want people to take their time and browse the stock. But because of space issues, there's no room for couches, fireplaces or tables. If customers want some java, Book Loft employees direct them next door to Cup O' Joe or down the street to Starbucks.

"That's really nice because I don't have to deal with it," Tompkins said.

Tompkins and Carl Jacobsma opened the store in 1977. Back then, it was a tiny book depot: two floors with a loft on top, hence the name. They ran the Village Owl on City Park Avenue while opening the Book Loft, which is in a structure built in the 1800s. They later sold their other enterprise, which is no longer in existence.

Over time, as the German Village community's reputation improved, the neighborhood got more visitors. So did the Book Loft. In 1987, they brought on a third partner, Russell Iler, the book buyer at the store.

Tompkins and Jacobsma slowly expanded, taking over a candy shop, art gallery, bric-a-brac store and other retailers.

Now the Book Loft totals 7,500 square feet - a labyrinth of narrow walkways sided by towering bookshelves containing every conceivable book, plus an extensive collection of jigsaw puzzles, DVDs, greeting cards, posters and other merchandise.

There are two things customers won't find: used books or textbooks.

The front entrance is down a long, brick-and-stone-lined corridor - decoratively landscaped during warmer months - off Third Street.

In a display area near the front door, Rachel Page and Emily Johnson, both of whom live in southern Indiana, recently were browsing the stock.

"It's one of my favorite places in Columbus," said Page, a junior at Purdue University who spent an internship in Columbus last summer. "It's an experience coming here."

Johnson said she was curious about the space.

The store's owners said there isn't one particular type of Book Loft customer. They come from all walks of life with varied reading interests.

"It's an audience you can't get in most places," Jacobsma said.

"We have a tremendous amount of out-of-towners," Tompkins said. "We have some faithful people who come down every six weeks and spend the day here."

 

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