Lisa Bonvissuto
City Business

Boswell Book Company

While other book stores have closed, Boswell is a success. Why?

By - Jul 9th, 2014 02:57 pm
Boswell Book Company. Photo by Lisa Bonvissuto.

Boswell Book Company. Photo by Lisa Bonvissuto.

“This is our 1,910th day of business,” Daniel Goldin, the owner of Boswell Book Company, proudly announced to me at the start of our interview.  That’s about 5.2 years of operation in the fiendishly difficult book store business, certainly a testament to Goldin’s leadership and to local book-lovers who support the place.

At a time where independent bookstores (and bookstores in general, for that matter) are disappearing in the face of competition from Amazon and other online book sellers, Boswell is doing pretty well for itself. Its history goes back to small local chain of Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, an independent company in Milwaukee founded in 1927, which went out of business in 2009. Goldin, who had worked there as a book buyer, said “the opportunity fell into his lap” to purchase the assets of one location, the Downer Ave. store. Though he had the full support of the Schwartz family, and the help and advice of the book-loving community, Daniel wanted to be in control so Boswell could be its own store.

Daniel Goldin. Photo by Lisa Bonvissuto.

Daniel Goldin. Photo by Lisa Bonvissuto.

Goldin originally got his degree in math and Russian, and went into the publishing industry only because he heard it could be a stepping stone to an advertising job. “But it turned out I liked the books more than the advertising,” Daniel admits  “We do this because we love it.”

Community is something that’s very important to Goldin’s business model.  He’s very aware his books aren’t always the cheapest or most convenient to purchase. However, he knows people come in for the first time because they want to browse. “We build relationships with people and then they choose to come back,” he says. Being part of Downer Avenue is also key in influencing the running of Boswell.

Author events are a big deal at Boswell. Goldin is always looking for events that will draw in newcomers who’ve never stepped foot inside the store and might then become loyal customers. All different kinds of authors are brought in, both local and national.

Local authors are a great opportunity to bring in family, friends, and colleagues that might not otherwise set foot in Boswell. There is also an entire shelf in Boswell featuring the works of author from the region, particularly from Milwaukee itself.  “It’s part of being in the community,” Goldin says.

Though Boswell relies on the expertise of his book buyers Jason Kennedy and Amie Mechler-Hickson, everyone who works at Boswell gets a say in the books sold there. This comes in the form of the Staff Recommendations Shelf, which Daniel takes very seriously. Each staff member is asked to select eight books to personally recommend to customers, and leave the selections up for at least a month, so you know these decisions are not made lightly. If their picks sell, then more of those books are ordered. This means the customers really have the most say in what is sold at Boswell. This approach moves beyond the book buyer’s authority, and ensures that Boswell has a truly unique inventory reflecting the tastes of a very local customer base.

Though he is reluctant to make blanket book recommendations to people without first getting a feel for their specific taste, Goldin says his current must-read is The Vacationers by Emma Straub: “It’s a comical novel about a dysfunctional family. The perfect summer read.”

Boswell does sell some secondhand books, but Goldin notes, “Boswell is very, very picky about secondhand books, because they have to stand right next to new books.”  This is a tradition that was started at the Harry Schwartz stores. The only tattered books are on Boswell’s markdown carts– all other secondhand books are in like-new condition. Used books are also only bought in exchange for store credit.

That policy should work fine for a true book-lover, though, and Boswell is the perfect place for that person. Customers are encouraged to take a seat in the comfy couches situated throughout the store, special orders are happily fulfilled when requested, and a kind of reference for books — and the pleasures of reading — permeates the place.

Boswell Book Company, 2559 N. Downer Ave., is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m., and Sunday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

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