If you walk into Fireside Books and Gifts in West Bend, Wisconsin, you’ll see a sign alerting customers that the owner is retiring and the store is for sale.
“Our accountant told us not to do that,” jokes Gary Christianson, “not to worry the customers, but we decided against it. Since we put up the sign, we’ve been getting great support and have found about half a dozen interested buyers.”
Christianson got serious about selling his store this past fall after experiencing a series of personal health challenges. He started the process by sending a notification to Wisconsin-area bookstores and using the ABA classifieds, but it’s the simple in-store sign he posted in November that resulted in a half-dozen interested parties.
What’s for sale is a 5,000-square-foot book and gift emporium in a high-traffic location Gary Christianson and his wife Karen have managed together for the last 30 years. “With so much space, the rent is high. I tell interested buyers if I was younger, I’d move the store, but they seem to want to stay.” His landlord agrees and has offered Christianson a month-to-month lease in the hope of keeping the bookstore where it is until a buyer can be secured.
Fireside’s long history, successful business model, and widespread community support are among its many selling points. Christianson opened the store as a franchise of the Little Professor Book Center. Christianson says when the founder of Little Professor died of cancer at a young age, the national chain, based out of Ann Arbor, lost its steam. He re-launched his store as Fireside Books and Gifts, building his brand around a fireplace, comfortable reading chairs, and free coffee.
In another wise move, Christianson moved the store fifteen years ago from an overdeveloped shopping mall that lost its department stores to a more manageable strip mall, a decision that launched sales to over a million annually. “We’re not bringing in that much anymore, but we’ve never lost money. In fact, the store has done well for us for many years.”
These days, however, there’s a tremendous change Christianson would rather leave in someone else’s hands: technology. “We haven’t taken part in MIBA’s programs as much as we used to, nor have we taken advantage of all the technological support offered by ABA, especially IndieCommerce. My health is part of the reason, but also, these technological innovations are beyond me, and I think our sales have suffered because of it.”
Indeed, as Christianson cautiously describes the skills his interested buyers bring to the table, he talks about one person in the greatest detail — the young man on the library board who is technologically adept and can carry the store into the e-book age.
“Over the years, we watched the big box stores come in, then buy one another up, which affected us, but we still grew in spite of it. The big change, though, is e-books. I’ve spent more sleepless nights worrying about this change in the industry than any others. But I’m optimistic. I was excited PW choose the ABA board as the people of the year, and happy about the growth in stores and sales. I think anyone who is enthusiastic and technologically savvy will do well in this business.”
When asked how bookselling feels today, he says, “Well, I still enjoy it. My wife is an attorney, so I’ve always said she has the real job so I can play. But we still made money in the good years, and we never lost money. I’m still ordering books, doing payroll, and paying the bills.”
Christianson is happy to hear from additional interested buyers. To discuss, call Karen Christianson at the O’Meara Law Firm at 262-334-2331.