Richard and Emily Sovine had a vision for the old Niblick building on 2nd and W. Monroe streets in Decatur: a bookstore.
That idea came to fruition when the couple bought the building and opened the Next Page bookstore in August 2005.
“It’s something that I think is needed for our young people today,” Emily Sovine said. “They need to have the book in the hand. They need to be able to read the words, not just read it off the tablets.”
Ebooks may be where technology is heading, but Sovine insists that bookstores are making a comeback.
“I think we’re one of the few in Indiana that are still left,” she said. “But this was my husband’s dream that we took on and it’s still flourishing.”
Part of the success has been adding Famous Monster Pizza to the back of the store this past summer. The Sovines rent the space to Max Miller, who gave the restaurant a theme featuring popular movie and literary monsters. The pizza parlor also has a small stage that is perfect for local and visiting authors to give readings and have book signings.
On the night of Nov. 17, the Next Page hosted an Authors Night where five local writers read from their current offerings on the Monster Pizza stage.
Sovine said the Next Page hosts author events once or twice a year.
“We don’t hold them real often,” she said. “But when authors or publishers contact us, we look at the time frame for what would be a good fit.”
The Nov. 17 event was a complementary tie-in with the store’s Christmas open house that weekend.
Authors Night was organized by romance and mystery writer T.G. Wolff, whose latest novel, Exacting Justice, is her fourth published book.
Wolff also has a day job as a civil engineer. Her work frequently takes her to Decatur City Hall, where she noticed the quaint little bookstore across the street a long time ago.
“It seemed like every time I was at city hall, the bookstore was closed,” she said. “One time I was over there and the bookstore was open, so I turned right around and ran in and just fell in love with the bookstore.”
She recently inquired about hosting an event and someone connected her with Sovine.
“She was just very open-minded about opening up her space in a way that could really engage both the writer and the reader and hopefully the pizza diner too,” Wolff said.
The evening turned out to be a success.
“We’re just so excited — all of us — to have so many people here, some who came with us and some who are just fans of Monster Pizza and fans of the bookstore,” Wolff said the night of the event. “I feel like we’re all having a very successful night, really, regardless of how many books we sell.”
Business at Next Page has been going well.
“We’ve had a lot of foot traffic — more foot traffic coming in since (Famous Monster Pizza) opened,” Sovine said. “While his patrons have to wait for a seat, they come browse the store, so we’ve seen an increase in our sales since his business has opened.”
When planning author events, Sovine works with Miller to schedule a date and time.
“He likes having events as well,” Sovine said. “It’s a win-win for both of us because they bring in people who buy food and eat pizza and they will buy books from us.”
By trade, Sovine is a speech pathologist who graduated from Michigan State University in 2003. Richard, however, went to school for business and actually wrote a business plan on opening his own bookstore for one of his classes.
In addition to new and used books, the Next Page also sells gifts, audio books, DVDs, CDs and toys. There is also a large meeting room upstairs.
The Amazon effect
This all comes at a time when Amazon — the world’s largest online book retailer — has entered into the realm of brick-and-mortar. Amazon’s latest venture is a small-format physical retail store called 4-Star, which sells an eclectic mix of items that Amazon customers have rated as 4 stars and above, according to Bloomberg News.
There are three 4-Star locations to date: Manhattan, Denver and Berkeley. This brings the company’s offline offerings to 18 bookstores, a few dozen Amazon Pop-Up stores, and a growing number of the cashier-less convenience stores, Amazon Go. This is in addition to nearly 500 Whole Foods Markets in the U.S. and U.K. purchased in 2017.
“Amazon sees physical stores as key to maintaining rapid revenue growth,” Bloomberg News reported Sept. 26. “The company will have 49.1 percent of online sales in the U.S. this year, but just 4.9 percent of all retail spending since most money is still spent in stores, according to EMarketer Inc.”
Sovine is not concerned about the increasing competition. The secret to succeeding as an independent bookstore, she said, is “just having patience and taking time and trying to see what the community is wanting, to try to make things better — always improving on things. Adding used books has really helped our business. Doing events like (Authors Night) helps.”