Ever since a holding company took over the lease for the iconic Shakespeare Co. bookstore on Lexington Avenue on Manhattan’s Upper East side and purchased the Shakespeare Co. trademark in early 2015, it planned to expand the concept. At the time Shakespeare Co. CEO Dane Neller, who is also CEO of its sister subsidiary On Demand Books (the makers of the Espresso Book Machine), told PW that Shakespeare Co. wanted to become a national chain. Today, the company took its first steps to achieving that goal, announcing plans to open three outlets this year.
The first store will open this summer at 1632 Walnut Street in the historic Rittenhouse Square area in Philadelphia. Two additional stores will open in Manhattan in the fourth quarter of 2018: one on the Upper West Side at 2020 Broadway (between 69th and 70th Streets) and one in Greenwich Village at 450 Sixth Avenue (near 11th Street).
Like the flagship store, all three new Shakespeare bookstores will be about 3,000 sq. ft. and will have a café with seating and Wi-Fi, as well as a book machine and carefully selected inventory. In addition, a standalone Shakespeare grab-and-go café will open this summer near the Lexington Avenue store, which is the official brick-and-mortar store for Hunter College. The café will be located outside the Hunter College Subway Station.
“In five years we’d like to be a large national presence,” said Neller. “Our goal is to become an important national [retailer].” Although he declined to give a specific number of stores that will open over that time period, Neller did say that the next wave of Shakespeare bookstores will be located on the East Coast and gradually grow concentrically. He envisions new stores opening eventually in Boston, Chicago, and beyond.
Neller said he plans to open the trade bookstores mainly in college communities and some outlets could be 4,000 to 5,000 sq. ft, but said “3,000 sq. ft.is our sweet spot.” The stores will carry the same type of carefully curated inventory that mark some of the most successful indie bookstores that have added book machines over the past few years—stores like Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass.; Politics Prose in Washington, D.C.; and Third Place Books in Seattle, Wash.
With the Espresso machine, Neller emphasized that the stores will not only be able to “showcase” books, but will also be able to print the books customers want that may not be on the shelves. Customers will also be able to self-publish their own books using the Espresso machine. It’s a view of bookselling that drove On Demand’ s founders, who include editor and publisher Jason Epstein, from the beginning. But it was never fully realized on a large scale despite partnerships with the American Booksellers Association, the Christian Booksellers Association, and Books-A-Million.
Although Shakespeare Co. won’t technically be an independent, Neller said, “to me they are independent in the sense of small and localized. We don’t see ourselves as becoming a homogenized concept. We would like to grow and get the benefits of scale.” Although core assortments of books will be bought centrally, store managers will buy local inventory and will run each store as if they were the owner. Each store will also have a different look to fit in with the community.
“My vision for Shakespeare Co.,” said Neller “has always been to create the biggest little bookshop in the world. Each new bookstore should be rooted in the local community and offer a cultural sanctuary where customers can escape from their daily routines, turn off their smart phones, relax, unwind, and indulge in the luxury of reading.”