Bookstores in downtown Fargo persevere through digital age

Boxes stacked around B.D.S. Books containing books.

Sary Switajewski, MSUM English and Mass Communications

While meandering downtown Fargo, it’s difficult to find a bookstore – there is just a handful in the downtown area. It makes a bookworm wonder: how do these independent and quality bookstores stay afloat if e-books are as popular as Amazon portrays?

Owner of Zandbroz Variety Greg Danz, a true lover of the printed word, provided some answers. Brad Stephenson, who owns B.D.S. Books on First Avenue in Fargo, showed the differences between independent bookstores versus secondhand bookstores such as his own. Both had their own insights and voiced strong opinions on different topics, but one thing is for certain: They both want print books to thrive in today’s technologically saturated world.

Owner of Zandbroz Variety illustrates selling books in 2013

This coming December will mark 22 years of Zandbroz’s presence in Fargo. The owner, Greg Danz, has a very solemn but hopeful way of expressing his opinions on booksellers. He’s been interviewed many times, as he has one of the few bookstores in downtown, and every answer and idea he had was well articulated.

“I don’t think I’m optimistic, but I’m hopeful that bookstores will be around in 10-20 years,” Danz said. “Time will tell. They said we’d be gone by now, but there are a few of us left.” It goes to show that while technology is abundant now, some still prefer real pages and a tangible book to hold. There has been a comeback of vintage and retro items in the past couple years, and that could be one of the many contributing factors to bookstores staying afloat.

Greg Danz of Zandbroz Variety.

While Barnes & Noble in Fargo has stayed, there are still a couple aspects that set indie and corporate stores apart.

“The primary difference is we reflect our community better than a corporate one,” Danz said. “We make all our buying decisions locally, and they’re more influenced by local needs and/or likes.” While perusing the stacks, one notices several books from local authors, as well as some published through New Rivers Press, the publishing house at MSUM. Zandbroz takes great care in helping customers and all of the employees know the store incredibly well, and this small business exceeds in benefitting the local community.

“After 20 years, we get a lot of customers and we respect their opinions, and if they recommend a book, we go with it,” Danz said. The fact that Zandbroz is family-run further solidifies its relationship with the community and ensures return customers, which is in contrast to corporate stores where there is a higher turnover. Zandbroz will even special order books if you ask.

Zandbroz’s shelves displaying a wide variety of books.

But along with differences, there is one theme that seems to be reoccurring throughout any bookstore I look through: losing costumers to online shopping.

“I can’t tell you how many times somebody will come in, ask about a book, we’ll track it down for them, get the information … and when you get all done and you give them your time, and they go, ‘No I’ll go home and order it on Amazon,’” Danz said. “Do that, but don’t tell me that. It seems mean-spirited.”

While this is one of the adverse effects of book businesses, and maybe some of you can relate, the best part remains clear in Danz’s eyes:

“You get to work with books and people who read them, every day. It’s a pretty good combination.”

B.D.S. Books showcases book hoarders’ heaven

 When walking into B.D.S. Books, watch your step. It is an overwhelming and exciting experience. The used bookstore off of First Avenue and University Drive is a big, cozy room full of books. Owner Brad Stephenson is equally busy as he is passionate about his used books. He started selling them in 1995 in Wahpeton, N.D. before coming to Fargo in 2001 on Broadway, then relocating to First Avenue in 2007. He couldn’t get hired anywhere else, and decided to start his own business in 1995.

B.D.S. Books’ owner Brad Stephenson standing beside his collection of books.

“I love books, but I don’t get to read ‘em,” Stephenson said. “I donate plasma twice a week, so I can read for 45 minutes and they can’t kick me out.” Stephenson laughs about it, but he epitomizes a small business owner. He is constantly answering the phone and customer questions, and can’t seem to find the time for himself or his beloved store, even if it is where he spends the majority of his time. Boxes line each aisle and greet you in the entryway, all full of dog-eared books signed by good friends and grandmothers.

Boxes scattered about the entryway of B.D.S. Books.

“We’re doing all right,” Stephenson said, though it sounded more like a question. “I’m not sure what we’re selling, but we’re still selling … the e-books hurt, because lazy men bought their wives and mothers e-readers two Christmases ago.” He commented on how Nora Roberts, a New York Times’ Bestselling Author, used to sell daily, and now months go by in between purchases of her novels in his store.

B.D.S. Bookstore’s large amount of references sit on shelves since Internet’s arrival.

Stephenson believes his store is in a separate category as Zandbroz or Barnes & Noble, as they sell brand new books at full price. It’s a different atmosphere with a different consumer.

“The hardest part is trying to get enough money to pay the bills,” Stephenson exclaimed, “trying to get people to throw their e-readers away. Trying to sneak into peoples’ houses and steal their batteries.” Stephenson’s sense of humor and self-deprecation are a large part of the fascinating allure of B.D.S. Books. He shows a realistic and humorous side to the death of print books.

A stuffed-bear sits atop the B.D.S. Books’ counter.

It may be a tough thought for some to deal with, but in some part, people forget or don’t notice these stores on the side of the road in plain view. I didn’t notice it until a few weeks ago.

Beneath all of his ranting about how the undoing of the one-way on First Avenue messed up more businesses than it helped them, any customer could see how much Stephenson enjoys his collection.

B.D.S. Books’ shelves.

“It’s fun when people come in, and they’re looking for something they’ve been looking for for ages, and I’ve got one,” Stephenson said, smiling. “Sometimes people don’t even know what they’re looking for, and we find it for them. Some say, ‘I didn’t even know this existed,’ but here it is. Those kinds of things are what really make it a good time. When people come in with a list of books – I love lists. Then we go hunting. It’s a hoot.”

Growth in the number of bookstores in the US since 2009.

These are the people who are keeping books thriving in our technological world. While e-readers may take over the majority of sales, Greg Danz and Brad Stephenson will still be in Fargo, preserving the written word on pieces of paper stacked on shelves, waiting for us to discover new stories. Nothing can give a bookworm a more satisfactory feeling.

(Edited by Daniel Ziebol, MSUM Multimedia Journalism)

 

One thought on “Bookstores in downtown Fargo persevere through digital age

  1. I have shopped many times at BDS books and at Zandbroz variety, they are hidden treasures and should be included as a must stop during any travels to Fargo. I promise that you will be amused and richer for the experience after paying them a visit. BDS books has some thing for everyone, plan on spending some time perusing through the stacks. Enjoy !

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