With the rise of online store giants like Amazon, some have speculated that brick-and-mortar independent bookstores will go extinct. But one co-owner of Changing Hands Bookstore believes the business is here to stay, and, can even fill the gaps when Amazon cannot.
With locations in Phoenix and Tempe, Changing Hands is evidence of a surviving industry.
The store offers both new and used books, toys, gifts and hosts more than 300 author events a year, according to its website.
“No, brick and mortar bookstores are not going away,” said Cindy Dach, co-owner of Changing Hands. “The past 200 years have proven that. There have been challenging times and there will continue—bookstores will always live through challenging times and they will always experience them, but they’re not going away.”
The pandemic seemed to prove the resiliency of Changing Hands, and served as an opportunity to outshine Amazon.
“One thing that happened that helped our business a lot was Amazon declared that books were no longer an essential item, so that they could take anywhere from three to six weeks to ship,” Dach said in a phone interview. “And people fell in love with reading during the pandemic because they had a lot of time. So, the pandemic increased the amount of people who buy books and read books.”
Sarah Herlache, a librarian at Foothills Library in Glendale since 1999, confirmed that at the very least, demand for physical books in general is not waning.
“People who read are probably reading the same amount,” Herlache said. “I don’t know about the population outside of people who come to the library—I don’t know anything about them. But I know we always have had people come in and they’ll have piles of books—for kids and adults, teens—we have a checkout limit of 35 items. Sometimes people reach that. … People read a lot.”
While Changing Hands has two locations, the Phoenix venue offers something few bookstores do: alcohol.
Located inside the store, First Draft Book Bar offers coffee, wine, beer and snacks, according to the website.
While bookstore bars are not a new idea, they are uncommon, according to Bob Sommer, co-owner of Changing Hands.
“In Portsmouth, New Hampshire—I think it is—there’s a book bar. There’s one in Denver, Colorado, and probably a half dozen around the country but I can’t tell you where they are. So, it’s not a unique thing, but it’s pretty rare,” Sommer said in a phone interview.
But adding a bar to the business has been a challenge, Sommer said.
“Everything was a challenge. We didn’t know anything about running a food service or beverage service. Nine years into it we are still learning. We finally, I think, moved into the black. For many years we lost money on it,” Sommer said.
Changing Hands hosts many events throughout the year—from a monthly book club, to a Harry Potter birthday party, artisan markets and more.
The addition of the bar has increased the number of events the bookstore hosts because it adds an alcoholic element to the experience, according to the website.
The company opened its doors for the first time on April Fool’s Day in 1974, in Tempe, according to the website.
But after outgrowing its original 500 square foot space on Fifth Street, the store moved to a Mill Avenue location in 1978.
The store would move one more time, however, in 1998 to its current Tempe location on McClintock and Guadalupe—rent and parking prices became too high on Mill, as national chains entered the local market.
The Phoenix location opened in 2014.
Cindy Dach: (602) 614-8717
Bob Sommer: (480) 730-0205
Sarah Herlache: (623) 930-3600