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Stores Turn the Page to Lucrative Sideline Items

Merchandise: More shops are choosing to stock gift and specialty products in order to lure customers and help make up for lagging book sales.


As they waited for a friend to finish shopping at Borders Books and Music in Sherman Oaks, Matt Kelliher and Joyce Chan wandered around a gift display.

A bag of gourmet jellybeans caught the attention of the thirtysomething shoppers, bringing them to a table that also featured chocolate cigars and candy golf balls.

The display was one of several between the music department and the cafe. Here, shoppers can recharge their batteries with a cup of joe or purchase items, such as bagged coffee, tea infusers, mugs and thermoses.

Kelliher and Chan were soon rejoined by their friend Tanya Roton, who was waving the item that had drawn them into the store: "1" the newly released CD of Beatles chart-toppers, on sale for $11.99.

Though Borders is the nation's No. 2 bookseller, not every shopper is there for the books. The same is true at superstore rival Barnes & Noble, which adheres to the books/music/cafe/events formula Borders launched in the early 1990s.

Barnes & Noble, which has three Valley locations, expanded its gift line this year to include Zen gardening kits; office accessories, such as memo holder sets and pop-up calculators, CD case holders and Christmas ornaments.

Industry observers say there's nothing new about bookstores carrying sideline items. But, with consumers buying more books online or from discount warehouses, bookstores of all sizes are under mounting pressure to lure in shoppers by diversifying their inventory.

"More is expected of us now," said John Bohman, vice president of merchandising for Crown Books. "Customers want us to do more to 'wow' them when they come in."

In a year in which book sales have been disappointing, Bohman said, Crown's success has come from sales of sidelines, such high-ticket items as Italian leather journals, diaries, photo albums and pens.

Bohman estimates that Crown stores, including the Valley locations in Sherman Oaks and Granada Hills, are devoting 30% more floor space to non-book items than they did a couple of years ago.

A similar change has occurred at B Dalton Bookseller. When manager Jeanne Taylor started at the chain's Northridge store five years ago, the inventory consisted of books and bookmarks.


Since then, the store has added notebooks, pens and book-related accessories, such as Harry Potter Christmas ornaments. More recently, B Dalton began offering a smattering of popular CDs--strategically displayed by the cash register.

After robust sales of the Billy Bass singing fish--flip a switch and he moves his mouth to the strains of "Don't Worry, Be Happy" or "Take Me to the River"--Brentano's has added candy, music and other items designed to attract impulse buys.

"People are still coming for the books, but they'll notice that we have a CD their daughter wants and figure they might as well pick it up here," said Sherman Oaks store manager Dan McCormick.

At some smaller bookstores, the sidelines have taken on greater importance. Book sales have dropped considerably in the past several years at House of David Jewish Books and Gifts, said owner Moshe Gabay, who believes competition from online book retailers is a key factor.


The Valley Village store, which opened in 1954 and only recently began carrying a wide selection of Jewish items--including prayer shawls, menorahs, music, computer software and games--now takes in half its revenue from non-book merchandise.

Another reason many independent bookstores are finding the need to expand their non-book inventory is the price competition they face from the superstores.

"Some of these larger chains can actually sell books for less than we can buy them for," said Judy Levy, owner of Imagine Center Bookstore in Tarzana.

Levy's store, which specializes in books and gift items designed for spiritual growth, holistic healing and creating sacred spaces, dedicates about half of its retail space to non-book items--desktop fountains, sculptures, goddess accessories, jewelry, crystals and other items based on the Chinese notion of feng shui.

Some book retailers are finding there are limits to how far afield they can go in offering non-book merchandise.

Crown stopped carrying puzzles, games and computer software after concluding that it couldn't compete with mass merchants and toy stores in those areas, Bohman said.

Similarly, the chain revamped its greeting card lines, moving toward cards with photographic images and illustrations from books.

"Our customers don't want anything that approaches Hallmark, because they can go to a Hallmark store for that," said Bohman. "They're looking for things that cater more to the educated person who is an avid book reader."

Tarzana's Pages Books for Children and Young Adults has expanded its non-book merchandise to include children's music, spoken audio, videos and soft toys related to the books.

"While books are our core, we find that these sidelines carry the message to our customers that the books have a vitality," said store owner Darlene Daniel.

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