Blue Elephant Book Shop Closing

Just received this announcement from the folks at Blue Elephant

Blue Elephant Book Shop trumpets its last

It is with enormous sadness that I write to you today to tell you that the book shop will be closing, probably in mid-March. Whether it is because of the economy, e-readers, on-line sales, my own misjudgments, or, as is most likely, all of the above is immaterial. The fact is we are not selling enough books to sustain the business.

In our four years, we have taken great pleasure in our relationships with old friends and new and hope to continue that in other ways. We appreciate the support so many have given us. Until the doors close, we will continue to offer the same friendly service; and, as always, we’re here to talk about books.

Thank you from all of us,

Laura, Erin, Kimberly, Linda, and Rachel

44 thoughts on “Blue Elephant Book Shop Closing”


  1. Bad news. Very sorry to hear this. What business model can work for independent bookstores? Or any bookstores?

  2. Long article in last Sunday’s NYT about Barnes & Noble now fighting for its life. Is the world getting more ironic?

    1. If B&N fails, indy bookstores will be all that is left and may even thrive. Browsing the list of new releases on Amazon isn’t even close to going to the bookstore and picking up a few books before deciding on one. I know I am not the only one who feels that way. Nooks and Kindles are cool, but they definitely have a little bit of a fad feel to them. I tried eReaders, but much prefer an old fashioned book.

      1. If B&N fails, then literally millions of square footage devoted to selling the printed word will go away, much in locations far too expensive for independent stores to replace.

        Many communities not blessed with good indies will have no real access to paper books, and the people in those places will be forced to order their books online or switch to ebooks. They will buy the books that Amazon leads them to (and are paid to recommend), not the ones that a bookstore geek has found and loved.

        The publishers will have far fewer venues to sell their paper titles, and demand will decrease, making the per unit cost higher and the slide toward digital even more likely.

        Laura and her crew at Blue Elephant were brave and bold to take up this labor of love, and they made a great effort at keeping that business afloat in the worst five years this economy has seen since the 30’s.

        I’m sorry if everyone didn’t think their signage was good enough. I’m sure if they had gotten that part right, everything else would have worked.

        (I’m sorry for the snark, but I find this a little heartbreaking.)

        1. It is sad to see them close. But I don’t think people are being mean about the signage issue, I think we’re all puzzled. There are certain immutable laws that govern retail commerce, and one is that you need to put up a sign. I never understood why they didn’t install one.

      2. If B&N fails, there will not be an opportunity for indy bookstores to thrive because there will no longer be a publishing industry. Without B&N, there is not enough bookstore real estate left to support publishers. E-readers are here to stay, it only remains to be seen whether or not print books will survive alongside.

        1. I don’t buy this.

          Look at music stores. The chain record stores are all gone now, but there are still tons of small music stores, and a profitable record industry.

          I don’t see any reason why the book publishing industry can’t survive in a similar fashion.

          1. I’m far from being an expert on either industry. But it is my understanding the music industry has been evolving rapidly (and in some respects, painfully) to keep up with the effects that digital technology have had on the business model; and that it was a completely different model to start with, compared with book publishing. Isn’t it the case that the bulk of profits for music companies (which produce what the indy stores sell) do not come from CDs? Since there are not big bucks to be had sending bestselling authors out to perform in sold-out arenas, book publishing has had a completely different model. I could be completely off base on these particulars. But IMO this article makes a plausible case that the publishing industry is in peril and that its fate is tied to that of B&N.
            http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/29/business/barnes-noble-taking-on-amazon-in-the-fight-of-its-life.html?scp=2&sq=Barnes%20&%20Noble&st=cse

          2. Most working musicians will tell you the only money to be had in the business is touring, not CD sales. That doesn’t work for authors or publishers.

            Apple, which is the closest music parallel to Amazon, worked closely with the music labels and offered a viable and somewhat profitable alternative to Napster. Amazon, on the other hand, has set itself up as a complete alternative to publishers, offering a soup to nuts operation that completely removes all other players.

            And lastly, “tons of small music stores?” I can count the survivors in this city on one hand and still have my thumb left. My brother-in-law drives from John’s Creek to shop at Decatur CD, because there’s not another decent shop between here and there.

            I can’t think of the last time anyone opened a new music store within 100 miles of here.

            1. That’s a false comparison. Musicians make their money from live pertformances, true, but we’re talking about the industry side, not the artist side. The record labels are still profitable (despite MAJOR, long-term stonewalling on their part against technology). The publishing industry will still be profitable, too. Just maybe not in association with terrible stores like B&N.

              The idea that books would no longer be poublished if B&N goes under is ludicrous. You really think Amazon is going to get out of the book selling business entirely?

            2. “And lastly, “tons of small music stores?” I can count the survivors in this city on one hand and still have my thumb left. My brother-in-law drives from John’s Creek to shop at Decatur CD, because there’s not another decent shop between here and there.

              I can’t think of the last time anyone opened a new music store within 100 miles of here.”

              Mojo Vinyl opened in Roswell in 2011.

              You must have an abnormal amount of fingers. A very incomplete list off the top of my head:
              Full Moon
              Decatur CD
              Wax & Facts
              Criminal
              Wuxtry
              Records Galore
              Fantasyland
              Reactionary Records
              Feed Your Head

    2. I actually wrote a post about that article that I never posted. Want to see the picture I drew for it? Here it is!

      Independent bookstore closings are nearly always tragic, especially for the communities that love and rely on them. But a 1 in 5 closing since 2002 – as stated in that article – seems like a much more flexible and resiliant business model than 100% of Borders (and B&N) stores closing.

  3. i always wondered why Blue Elephant never actually put up a real sign. Seems like they may have had more business if people knew they were there. The banner on the building, and the wooden elephant they pulled out and put on the sidewalk didn’t seem to be enough presence. I’ve heard several people who frequent downtown Decatur state they didn’t even know it was there and others drove around looking for it b/c the signage was so poor. In fact, I know the folks at Melrose on Ponce said people stopped in there wondering if they were in the right place… i guess because people described it as “the white building on ponce”

    I too liked the shop, but is seemed to be a destination, rather than a stop-in b/c of the poor signage.

  4. It didn’t help that they had Little Shop of Stories, Eagle Eye, Books Again, Book Nook, and two B&N within a few miles.

  5. I live 2 blocks away. It took me 2 months to realize there was a bookstore there. Even now I confuse it w Melrose! It’s always sad to see a bookstore close 🙁

  6. We did a lot of shopping (apparently not enough) at Blue Elephant, typically after dinner at Farm Burger across the way. I liked them a lot more in their new location than the sterile one in the Publix shopping center. It seemed like there was growing foot traffic down at that end of Decatur, but apparently not book-buying foot traffic…

    1. I also live 3 blocks away. You know we are a very literate neighborhood. I wish that was enough to support them. Apparently not.

  7. Oh no! We certainly tried to keep them in business. All of us had over a foot of books each for Christmas. They really know my family’s sweet spot, and can tell you when you walk in what’s new that you’d like. I will really miss you my pachydermish friends.

  8. I will definitely miss Blue Elephant. My kid & I made a habit of stopping in after we went to the playground there across from the Christian church. They had a cute little kids section and the people were always SO friendly and helpful. I have an e-reader, but frankly I still prefer actual books. I mostly use my e-reader to download mystery novels that I like that are produced by mass market paperbacks – everything else I want in hard copy. And I’ve always preferred an independent bookstore over a big chain like B&N or Borders. I just feel like there’s a much higher lever of service and I like chatting with the owners / employees about books.

  9. This is Kimberly, erstwhile of Blue Elephant, speaking here as an independent entity. In answer to some of the questions: The reason we never put up a fancy sign is that signage made to Decatur’s zoning standards would have cost hundreds/thousands of dollars that we simply didn’t have–money that we chose to spend on rent, employee salaries, and books we love that we hope you love too. With a nonexistent publicity budget, our advertising was almost entirely word-of-mouth, and our regular customers have been amazing in that regard with their kindness and loyalty. To the customers we never met because we couldn’t afford a brightly lit sign: I’m sorry we failed you. Please support your local independent bookstores: support including money, if you want them to stay. If we could pay rent with the good intentions and well-wishes of book lovers, the kind people of Decatur alone would keep us comfortably in the black.

    The book “Reluctant Capitalists” by Laura J. Miller (http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/R/bo3750504.html) is an excellent look at the complicated and conflicting loyalties at play in the business of bookselling. Available through your local indie.

  10. I’m not sure how any bookstore can compete with Amazon. I always preview books and music on Amazon, then force myself to buy locally. I say “force” because it’s generally cheaper at Amazon, even with shipping, and just so darn easy. I doubt that many people do that. But there’s nothing like the atmosphere of an independent bookstore! Blue Elephant will be sorely missed and a real loss to the neighborhood.

  11. Why don’t we do something to help out here, folks? If you and your neighbors visit Blue Elephant and purchase a book or spends $20 this weekend or next week, maybe we can save a local bookstore.

    It’s possible – I saw a segment on World News the other night about a hardware store in Illinois in the same predicament. The community came together with this same idea and the hardware store had its best weekend EVER.

    Every purchase counts! I really don’t want to see the local bookstore go down.

    1. + 1000

      I was thinking the same thing. Everyone came out for Melton’s, surely we can try to save Blue Elephant?

      1. Count me in. I was so sad to hear this. I have not yet been to Blue Elephant but have been meaning to go. I will be heading over this weekend and I’m making a new resolution to buy all hard copies from local booksellers.

        For economic reasons (and clutter-control) reasons, we’ve been trying to use the library. I also try to get e-books for books that I want to read but don’t really want to keep (how-tos, parenting tips, my addiction to weird history books). But I have also been guilty of ordering online for convenience. Did so with some Christmas gifts for the kids this year, which I now feel terrible about.

        I love browsing bookstores and need to realize that if I don’t make the effort to support them, they won’t be here when I need them. I hope it’s not too late to save Blue Elephant. If it is, then it will be a sad wake-up call and much-needed mental smack upside my head.

        1. Just to add: Have made it a priority to shop Little Shop of Stories for our kids’ books and gifts to other kids. (We slipped over the holidays.) Making a renewed commitment now.

        2. Count me in, too. This hurts my heart, and I’ll do my small bit in trying to help them. I’d rather do that, than give up & watch them go without so much as a whimper from me.

  12. I am heartbroken too. Many closures in Decatur have saddened me but this is going to change my life negatively. Blue Elephant has been part of my walks, my Dancing Goat visits, stop off from coming home from MARTA or several of the schools, babysitter night, last minute gift shopping, need a pick me up shopping, and much more. The staff were uniformly great people, true lovers of books, I will miss them.

    They did nothing wrong. It’s just the times. Their choice of books was exquisite. They hosted book clubs and author events. They donated to school and local charities. I spent an inordinate amount there. (American Express totals it nicely at the end of the year.) I couldn’t have spent more. That spending won’t shift over to Amazon, I’ll just buy less books. Because it wasn’t just about acquiring books, it was about the bookstore experience…

  13. This is a bummer. I bought a couple of books in there every 3-4 mos to support it. Interesting how we host one of the largest book festivals in the world and we can’t seem to keep a decent indy book store in the core of our town.

  14. Just something to think about. Everyone in Decatur has big issues with Walmart coming to town. Walmart got its position in the industry entirely due to superior inventory management systems from significant investment in technology well in advance of its competitors. We point out how Walmart has destroyed small town America. However, Decatur seems to love Apple Computer. Apple is great and their products are all over town. The left holds Apple as as all that is right about America. Yet, Apple uses slave labor in China to make almost all of its products (this is rarely reported). Its technology (IPOD, ITUNES, etc.) has completely decimated small town bookstores, newspapers, and CD stores throughout the country. The amount of jobs it has destroyed in America is staggering. Yet, Apple is great and Walmart is evil. Both are are products of technology advancements.

    1. I have to say that I don’t love Apple (although my children do.) The only reason I switched from Windows to Apple computers was because I could not take the viruses/spam/malware there anymore. It was too much constant maintenance and repair. I had a job, family, life to deal with as well. If Apple eventually becomes as vulnerable as Windows PCs, I’ll return to the latter.

    2. Gee — I think Apple sucks, and I wouldn’t describe my voting record as right wing. Watch it with the stereotypes, OK?

  15. @Parking Lot… Well, yes, we do have a huge book festival in the square and at that festival… we buy books! And, don’t forget, we have another fantastic indie book store in town… Little Shop of Stories. You might have noticed the Christmas tree on top this winter. In fact, I just stood in line for 2 hours for their camps. It’s challenging to support more than one store, but publishers are optimistic about the future of books.. and I know we all have our favorite stores. In fact, I buy my adult reads at Little Shop too. If you are sad about the wonderful Blue Elephant … and I let out a huge AWWWWW this am when I heard the news… please continue to support your local indie bookstores! I know its hugely disappointing but we can make a difference!

  16. As a 46 year old avid reader, I am sad that independent book stores are suffering. To being said, I rarely buy books any more; I think that in the last year, the only bound books I have bought have been for my children. I buy all my own books electronically now, and while I feel that those who hate on e-books are entitled to their opinion that there is something special about the paper, the smell, the feel, etc., I hold no such sentimental attachments to the medium. To me, a book is its story, and the words are the same words on a Kindle or iPad as they are on paper.

    While booksellers suffer because of this cultural shift, others benefit. Just as digital music distribution allowed musicians to pubblish themselves, e-books allow authors that same opportunity. Sure, the ratio of crap to quality has increased ten thousandfold, but the lower prices, the shelf space saved, and trees not cut down make it easier for readers to more easily check out new authors. Right now, we mourn the demise of the bookstore; a few years down the road, we will be accustomed to the new way of reading and of the business of reading. There was a time when the printed word was called the work of the devil–change happens.

    1. Re trees not cut down: Do we really come out ahead ecologically when we move from hardcopy to electronic readers? At least trees are a renewable resource. Most books are now printed on recyclable paper. And how often do people just throw out books in the trash? Aren’t they usually recycled somewhere whether it be as gifts, donations, resale? What do we do with all the electronic waste we generate when every year we end up having to upgrade our devices? My kids are on their third generation or more of iPods. What kind of energy are we expending with the manufacturing, maintenance, and use of electronic devices, their peripherals, and constant upgrades? How renewable is that energy?

      I don’t know the answer to these questions; just asking. And, unless books are ruining tropical rain forests and ozone layers more than everything else we do, I don’t know if I’m easily persuaded that their demise is okay. No way can downloading books on my laptop replace the experience of walking to town, browsing through a good bookstore, talking with knowledgeable staff, and then making an immediate purchase to savor (as opposed to running home and ordering online to save $1.50 and expending gas and other resources through the act of shipping.)

      I’m in a doomsday mood: What is Decatur going to end up as if online purchasing dominates? Just a bunch of restaurants? We’re not a natural tourist destination, given no mountains, ocean, or major attractions. The charm for me is the sense of localness. What will Downtown Decatur be like if we no longer have a variety of small businesses?

  17. What about it Decatur? Like Bulldog says, go spend twenty bucks at the Blue Elephant and see if we can save it instead of bemoaning the loss. Maybe it would only be for a few months, but then again maybe it would be for a year. We’ll never know until we act as a community.

    1. Have done so. Both before and after the news. But I cannot bankroll this entirely myself…. Remember, I forgot to be born or marry rich.

  18. I feel your pain. I sell books (the ones made of paper) from my living room on Amazon. Despite the fact that my prices are always lower than the Amazon price, my sales have dropped off dramatically this year. I blame the Kindle. My prices are even lower than the Kindle price, usually, but people looking for a specific book want it NOW, not in a week when the mail comes.

    Read the current Bloomberg BusinessWeek for an interesting look at the (possible) future of books. In short: Amazon is taking over. Not just the selling — the actual publishing.

  19. I haven’t felt like this since Oxford Books closed! This is the first I’ve heard this sad news about Blue Elephant. I shop regularly at local indie bookstores (Charis, A Cappella, Eagle Eye) and was able to find a recent Christmas gift book only at Blue Elephant. Service is wonderful, atmosphere is spot-on. Even my kids loved the store.

    And who cares about the sign, anyway? It was the least important aspect of the entire business.

  20. We give books for Christmas, and I bought all the books either at Blue Elephant or Eagle Eye. I am really conscious of how tenuous the survival of these small shops are– I wonder if Blue Elephant and Little Shop joined forces … ? I don’t know if that’s a feasible business model …

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