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Profiles in Courage: Chats with independent bookstore owners, Part I

By / July 12, 2010

Christin Evans and Praveen Madan, owners of the Booksmith bookstore in San Francisco.

Christin Evans

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[What do typesetters, shepherds, and independent bookstore owners have in common? That's not the setup for a bad joke – just a recognition that many traditional professions are under pressure these days, not the least of them the business of owning and operating your own bookstore. Facing the pressures of heavy competition from chains with deep pockets, a hesitant economy, and – most recently – assault from the likes of Kindle and the iPad, it is perhaps not surprising that membership in the American Booksellers Association has dropped almost 50 percent over the past 10 years (from about 2,700 members in 2000 to about 1,400 today). Over the course of the summer, the Monitor will be checking in with some of America's most beloved neighborhood booksellers to see how they are surviving or – occasionally – even thriving, in difficult times.]

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Like hard-core journalists who run into a war zone just when everyone else is struggling to get out, husband-and-wife team Christin Evans and Praveen Madan made an unusual decision three years ago. They left high-paying consulting jobs in the corporate world – and bought an independent bookstore. Now happily ensconced as owners of Booksmith San Francisco, Evans took a few moments to answer questions from Monitor book editor Marjorie Kehe. Here are excerpts of their conversation:

Q. Why, in this day and age, would anyone leave the corporate world to buy an independent bookstore?

A. I can’t answer that question for everybody but I can answer that question for us. Praveen and I both had reached a point in our career where we were very successful at what we did, which was help big companies get bigger. And we were very fortunate that we also could take some time off to consider what we wanted to do next.

And getting into independent bookselling for us was not the obvious choice. We did a lot of ideating about what our interests are, what our passions are, what we’d be excited about pursuing together as a couple. Bookselling was not obvious but it was one thing that came up and that we both kept coming back to. We both are readers and we both found ourselves spending a lot of time at bookstores.

We came from a background of helping companies apply technology to their businesses but also we are both MBAs so we both had business training and background. We basically said, what is it that an independent bookstore does? And we started to ideate about all the things that independent bookstores could do to create a sustainable model for their business, and the more that we got into that ideation the more we said there are a lot of things that bookstores should be trying to see if they can survive relative to the chains and Amazon.

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