From its original location now occupied by Cat's Cradle to the free-standing Boyd Street building it's resided in since 1992, Carrboro's Nice Price Books has been open longer than many UNC-Chapel Hill students have been alive.
The venerable store boasts of the likes of Billy Bragg, Nick Lowe and Thurston Moore stopping by while in town. But a changing marketplace for used books, combined with the changing face of Carrboro, means the original shop that spawned additional storefronts in Durham and Raleigh will soon close its doors for good.
In an announcement on Saturday, Feb. 9, Nice Price Books president and co-owner Cindy Kamoroff revealed that the original Nice Price Books store in Carrboro would shut down around the second week of March, its inventory liquidated. It's a move that's come as a shock to the Triangle's bookselling community, but for Kamoroff, it's the end result of years of upheaval in the used book market.
Kamoroff cites the decline of printed media, along with "demographic shifts," as major reasons for the store's decline in business: "There are a lot of baby boomers getting older, starting to retire, maybe downsizing, and they're looking to lighten their load of media, but I don't feel like we necessarily have a younger generation looking to acquire it in turn."
Online sales of used books also played a major role. New apps and scanners for iPhones allow potential customers at a used bookstore to scan books to figure out if they can get a better price from online sellers on such sites as Amazon—or to try to find books they can resell themselves at a higher price.
According to Kamoroff, competing with the online marketplace has cut into Nice Price's profits.
"I think people still like the experience of browsing very much, but because there is a universal access to a price monitor, it has brought prices down overall. In order to do the same amount of business that we used to do, we have to sell twice as much stuff. We'll get something in, and we'll check out records and see what we sold it for before, and realize we can't even get half that now."
Selling things online themselves hasn't proved a useful stream of income for Nice Price—Kamoroff says Amazon takes about 25 percent of the sales. "You have to run two businesses at the same time, going to the post office and maintaining the database." Owning their building instead of renting helped with expenses, but a final blow came from a major hotel development behind Nice Price's building: "They closed our sidewalk, and Carrboro is a very pedestrian-oriented town. It's a great spot for people walking from Chapel Hill to Carrboro, and now our sidewalk's gone."
Other local booksellers contacted by INDY Week expressed dismay at Nice Price's closing. Herb Coats, who co-owns the Reader's Corner just a few doors up from the Raleigh Nice Price, said he hoped that store stayed open, because "We need 'em in Raleigh!"
Like Nice Price, Coats says owning his building has helped lower his overhead, though he says "scanner people" looking for rare books to resell online have actually helped his business.
"If you have a walk-in bookstore where people can bring you books every day, then every day you can get a few really good books you can sell for $100 apiece—you carry those books next door, sell them online and you sell the rest at the store," says Coats, who also sells books through such online bookseller communities as AbeBooks.
Another neighbor of the Carrboro Nice Price lamented the closing: "I thought they were doing well," says Betty Schumacher, manager of The Bookshop in Chapel Hill. She says her store has maintained its sales by marketing to the rare/ first editions crowd, selling through five online book communities, and ordering new copies of current bestsellers.
Schumacher says that since new owners took over The Bookshop about five years ago, they were able to consolidate locations and increase sales by rotating out the books that had been sitting on the shelves the longest.
Though she says the store has lost some pedestrian traffic due to construction, she feels they have an advantage. "We keep two cats in the window. You'd be amazed how many people they bring in."
But Kamoroff laments the loss of the old reason for going into a used bookstore—to make an unexpected discovery.
"There's books by a favorite author from early in their career, autographed copies, obscure things you didn't know you were looking for," she says, her voice nostalgic. "And that's what I think is so great about a used bookstore. You're not going in to get a particular thing—you never know what you're going to find. And you won't get that online."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Used stores."