The US Census Bureau recommends that good, old-fashioned books make great last-minute Christmas gifts for hard-to-please friends or family members.
LOGAN – As Christmas Eve approaches, if you’re still wondering what to get for a hard-to-please person who already has every electronic gadget imaginable, the US Census Bureau recommends buying a book.
That’s right – a good old fashioned book.
Jeff Ballard, the new owner of one of the few bookstores in Cache Valley, echoes this suggestion.
“Your local bookstore may be the perfect place to find gifts for a family member or friend who seems to have everything and likes nothing,” according to census publicist Andrew W. Hait.
“How about a tabletop book with beautiful photos of classic cars, national parks or skyscrapers? Hait suggests. “Or a great novel that even the pickiest would love to curl up in on a sofa or a beach lounger?” “
But finding a bookstore to shop can be more difficult than choosing a gift yourself.
According to data from the Census Bureau County Business Patterns surveys, the number of bookstores in America has halved over the past two decades, from 12,151 in 1998 to 6,045 in 2019.
Publishing industry analysts attribute the decline to people obtaining information online rather than from newspapers or magazines, as well as a national shift towards the convenience of buying books online.
Here in Logan, Ballard literally saved the bookstore he calls Grandpa’s Bookshelf from bankruptcy just a few weeks ago.
The independent bookstore initially known as the Logan Book Exchange was acquired by Becky Jorgensen in 2001. She operated this business as Becky’s Bookshelf at 29 West, 100 North for 20 years, then announced it would close this fall in due to health problems.
“I walked in during Becky’s closing sale,” says Ballard. “I knew Logan needed bookstores; especially second-hand bookstores… So I said ‘You know, if we can fix things, I’ll take this place back for you.’ And we did.
“I took over the business on November 1st and it was fun. I’m having a good time. “
After retiring as an elementary school teacher, Ballard says he knows books and enjoys working with them.
“Besides, I spent 30 years talking to children and now I can finally talk to adults,” he laughs.
Another factor that has contributed to the national decline in the number of independent bookstores has been the sharp decline in their profit margins in recent years.
As the number of American bookstores began to decline in the late 1990s, the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns survey reports that their annual sales actually fell from $ 12.4 billion in 1997 to $ 16.8 billion. in 2007. But bookstore sales then began to decline and had fallen to just $ 10 billion by 2017.
Even then, only about 70 percent of that $ 10 billion in annual retail sales came from book purchases. The recall results from the sale of office and school supplies; toys, games and leisure supplies; and meals, snacks and drinks.
The merchandise for sale at Grandpa’s Bookshelf are strictly second-hand books and Ballard recognizes that it is difficult to make ends meet under these conditions.
“It’s true that you can’t make a living from a small store like this,” he says. “But it’s a great hobby.
“We’re doing a little more than the break-even point,” he admits, “so I get a little profit at home.
“Of course it’s not a lot of money, but I’m having fun. “