In one of the previous threads talking about bookstores, I linked to an article or something saying that independent bookstores are on the rise. That was like a year or so ago and I've had a long day at work and my Google-Fu is weak but what I'm about to say runs off the assumption that that statistic is still true and some of what francopoli says in his bit up there.
Barnes and Noble dropped the ball in a lot of hindsight is 50/50 ways. Online presence, Nooks, what ever. You've brought up before that one of the big things killing retail stores is rent and ever since you made that comment I've come across articles agreeing with that premise.
I frequent four different independence bookstores and they all have a few things going for them that give them some edge. Here's my breakdown of each cause brain no worky so eloquence is not an option tonight.
Bookstore A is a comic shop in a run down part of town where rent is cheap. Two thirds of the floor space is dedicated to tables for Magic The Gathering Tournaments and other types of gaming. They buy up and resell Magic Cards, Hero Clicks, and of course comics and probably make a mean ass profit at it. Their graphic novel section isn't really carefully currated, they take a shotgun approach and have about 10 bookcases dedicated to them (that's about 2-3,000 books at any given time). Chances are you won't be wowed by their selection, but you'll be guaranteed to find something that you'll like. Their rewards based program is laid out in such a way to incentivize customers to spend at least $1,000 a year there to take full advantage of it. Everybody there knows my name.
Bookstore B is a comic shop in another run down part of town where rent is cheap. Their focus is mainly comics, comics, comics. They have about the same selection as Bookstore A, but it's curated and they have quality titles for everything from cape comics to indies to indies. Every time you're there, they ask what you're reading, what you're interested in reading, suggest things to you, and kindly let you know that if you don't see something you want, they'll be more than happy to order it for you. One time I bought about twenty graphic novels all at once, mentioned that Dala would kill me if she knew how much I was spending (I was gift shopping, so it wasn't all for me) and the owner slapped on a bunch of half off stickers on them for me so I could tell her I got them for a deal. That's just how they roll. Everybody there knows my name.
Bookstore C is a regular bookstore in a fancy ass part of town, but in a small little hole in the wall that is A) still pleasant and B) while more expensive per square foot, still affordable. Their selection is curated and they know that they have limited space and therefore might not have much to interest you so they always ask what you're interested in, offer suggestions, and most importantly, let you know they can order anything you ask for. Nothing they have there interests me, but I like supporting small businesses, so that's my go to place to order books. Everybody there knows my name.
Bookstore D is a two hour drive from where I currently live. It's a pleasant country drive though, so I don't mind in the slightest. They're in a little town, far away from any interstate, so big box presence isn't really a thing there. As a result, chances are, there rent is cheap. There shit is curated, classy, and fancy (this place is like PBS while other bookstores might be more like Fox or ABC). They also play the small business end to their advantage and really market themselves that way. They have a section devoted to regional authors, regional publishers, and regional printers. Your dog is allowed in the store. They have two cats in the store. You could literally take a book, sit down in some random corner, and read it from cover to cover and they'd be totally chill with that. Everybody there knows my name.
Barnes and Noble? They do some things right. They have buy one get one deals and they're willing to take a shotgun approach to their merchandise so you'll find something if you're willing to look. They'll have author signings and every now and again they'll play acoustic blues music on the PA that I like. But their Blu-Rays are overpriced, they do seem to be schizophrenic in merchandising, and rent rates are probably kicking there butts. But most of all? Most of all? Nobody there knows my name. If I wanted books without the human interaction, I'd use the internet.