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As bookstores both large and small close across the country, Posman Books is about to open its fourth store in Manhattan. (Posman Books)

One NYC Indie Bookstore Survives By Being Small And Specialized

May 3, 2014 (Weekend Edition Saturday)

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In order to survive, bookstores need to stock more than just books, says John Mutter, editor-in-chief of the online newsletter Shelf Awareness.

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New York City's Posman Books is bucking a trend. Other booksellers — both independents and big chains like Barnes & Noble — are closing stores in Manhattan, but Posman is getting ready to open its fourth store in the city. It's one sign that some independent bookstores are managing to thrive despite the problems that have beset booksellers in recent years.

On a recent day, customers browsing at Posman Books in the Chelsea Market had a variety of needs: One was killing time before work, another was looking for a Mother's Day card, and yet another needed a new sketchbook.

These are pretty typical bookstore customers, says John Mutter, editor-in-chief of Shelf Awareness, an online newsletter about books and publishing. Bookstores can no longer survive on books alone.

"There was an idea in the past that if you had a lot of really good books and put them on the shelves, people would come," Mutter says. "And most booksellers recognized that that doesn't work anymore."

Posman's Chelsea store is one of three that the small independent chain currently operates in Manhattan. The other two are in Grand Central Station and at Rockefeller Center. Each one, says Mutter, caters to a specific market, and that niche marketing is one reason Posman has succeeded where others have failed. The Grand Central store is aimed at commuters; the Rockefeller Center store caters to tourists and travelers; and the Chelsea Market store is filled with cookbooks.

Even in this age of e-books and the convenience of buying online — a market dominated by Amazon — plenty of readers still love browsing through bookstores.

"It's definitely a more intimate shopping experience than what you would get online or at any other large bookstore," says Posman customer Jennifer Huck. "So I do enjoy shopping in the smaller store more. I think people are more willing to help you find what you're looking for, and I think they have a more unique selection of books."

Robert Fader, vice president of Posman Books, says the family-owned business was able to react more nimbly than the big chains like Barnes & Noble to the changes brought on by the growth of online shopping and digital books.

"In five years' time there will be more Posman Books in Manhattan than there will be Barnes & Nobles," he says.

Fader says because Posman stores are small, it's easier for the company to deal with the astronomical rents in New York. He says the closing of the other major chain store, Borders, helped the business because it served as a warning.

"I think it did give the public a strong sense that actually something was up and that you can't expect to have a bookstore in every town," Fader explains. "The public need to support bookstores."

Posman stores do carry a lot of products other than books, but Fader says books will always be their central mission.

"It's really important," he says. "It leads the whole thing. The reason that we're all independent bookstores is because we all have buyers meeting with publishers, looking at catalogs, making those decisions every day about what the stores look like."

Posman's newest store will open in 2015 in Lower Manhattan.

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