Change Happens

The Kelsey Group’s basic business has always been about the impact of new technologies on local media companies and small businesses. It is one thing to discuss this in the abstract and something else to read in The New York Times about a store in your hometown that gave up trying to fight change. Some businesses experience very little impact from new technology. People will always need doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs. But there are other businesses such as pharmacies and bookstores where mom and pop have to struggle to survive.

Micawber Books opened in 1981 on Nassau Street in Princeton and is one of many stores along our main drag that has been caught in the squeeze of big-box stores, the Internet and the ability of chains to pay the ever-higher rents on prime real estate. According to the American Booksellers Association, the number of independent bookstores has fallen from 4,700 in 1993 to 2,500 today. To be honest, I’m a little surprised it’s that high.

The Times article says the person who has owned this business from the beginning “blames a change in American culture, in the quickening pace of people’s lives, in the shrinking willingness to linger  the driving force of all of this is the acceleration of our culture  (people live in) a whole different gear, where society wants satisfaction and fulfillment now.”

The owner said there was no immediate financial crunch, but he knows that a few years from now it will be far more difficult to sell his bookstore. Micawber was part of the fabric of the Princeton community, but the owner may not have done everything he could to stay ahead of societal changes. For instance, while the store was well run, he did not adopt technology that would have facilitated inventory control and helped him to be more efficient. The buyer is Princeton University, whose campus is across the street. Princeton is also purchasing the building that houses the store and is bringing in Labyrinth Books, which is described as a scholarly chain.

Perhaps the majority of us have fond memories of “the good old days,” but the fact is that the world is changing and if you’re going to be competitive, you have to change with it. Will I miss this bookstore in the center of town? Yes, but I won’t hesitate to go out to the mall and linger at Barnes & Noble.

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