Monday, March 2, 2015

An Inteview with Margie Scott Tucker, the Owner of Books, Inc.

This past December, I had the opportunity to meet with Margie Scott Tucker, the owner of the Books, Inc. chain.  This was especially gratifying for me because I have been a member of the 4th Tuesday Night Book Club at the Palo Alto store for a while now (even though I only got there a couple of times last year).  And Margie runs the book club.  She does a great job of leading the discussion and coming up with questions that really make you think about a book.  (And we even have national best-selling author Meg Waite Clayton as one of our book club members!)

To give you some history:  Books, Inc. traces its start to 1851.  Are you kidding me? That's why it's called the West's Oldest Independent Bookstore.  Lew Lengfeld became the owner in 1946 and changed the name to its current Books, Inc.  Lew passed away in 1996.  He left the chain to 2 of his employees, including Margie's husband, Michael.  This coincided with the big box chains invading California.  The owners ended up filing for chapter 11 and closing 10 of their 13 stores.  Books, Inc. came out of bankruptcy in 1997 and started adding stores.  #4 and #5 opened in 1998.  And it's been growing ever since. #11, and the latest, opened in 2010.  There are 6 cities (and 1 airport) represented:

San Francisco (4 - Opera Plaza, The Marina, The Castro, Laurel Village)
San Francisco Airport (Compass Books - Terminals 2 & 3)
Mt. View
Palo Alto

Margie and Michael have a very unique approach for a chain.  Even though there is a corporate office/warehouse in San Francisco, each store has a manger, with the autonomy to make his or her own decisions, as well as its own buyer.  The philosophy is that each store represents the community where it's located.  That's why you'll see different books in each store.

Books, Inc. is a big leader in book world for author events.  They average 1200 events each year (which include book club meetings and storytimes)!  And 40-50 of them are big enough to take place off-site.  Although each store has an event coordinator, Margie oversees the big stuff and works with the publishers' publicity department.  I have been to a number of events in both Palo Alto and Mt. View, and they all run very smoothly and have great attendance.

Social media is where Books, Inc. has made big strides over the last couple of years. Each store has 1 or 2 employees that know social media.  They are connected on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest.  Did I miss any?  There seems to be a new site every couple of days.

And speaking of book clubs (6 paragraphs ago!), each store has its own.  And they run the gamut:  Adult book clubs (of course), middle-grade book clubs, Not Your Mother's Book Club, mother-daughter book clubs, baby's 1st book club, YA (young adult) book clubs, and toddler book clubs.  Many of the book clubs are organized and supervised by the store.  But plenty of others are community-oriented, with Books, Inc. stores acting as the meeting place.  How cool is all of that?

So here's the bottom line:  Books, Inc. is about community.  That's why Michael makes sure that each store is architecturally different and fits into the community in which it resides.  That's why each store is a compact 2500-4000 square feet.  That's why each store's merchandise matches the area of location.  Is there anything that Books, Inc. should be doing differently?  Not that I can see!

Here are a bunch of pictures of the Palo Alto store.  And try to tell me that you don't want to take a look in person.


  1. "So here's the bottom line: Books, Inc. is about community." Sadly, we don't have bookstores like this anymore in my area and it breaks my heart.

  2. Community is the best part of indie businesses, period. They're smart to let each store do their own buying.

    1. I was in one of the San Francisco stores yesterday. It's so different from the Palo Alto and Mt. View stores. They do a great job of blending each store into its community.

  3. Wow! Sounds like they are smart and doing it the right way. When I open my own bookstore someday I'll have to come visit for ideas :)