Jan 14, 2024 - Economy

For an Iowa bookstore, the economy feels almost "normal" again

The storefront of Beaverdale Books

The storefront of Beaverdale Books. Photo: Courtesy of Beaverdale Books

The last year has felt "as close to normal" at Beaverdale Books in Des Moines, Iowa, since COVID-19 forced the store to close for 13 months in 2020-21, says Hunter Gillum, co-owner of the bookstore.

Why it matters: As the GOP presidential candidates make their last push to win the Iowa caucuses, all of them are arguing that Democratic policies have been poor for the economy.

  • But Beaverdale Books is among 64% of other U.S. small businesses that say their operations are in good health, according to Q4 results from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
  • The store prepped for the worst "doom and gloom" in 2023 and has been pleasantly surprised on the other side, Gillum says.

Zoom in: For Gillum's business, at least, things have been good this last year for the established independent bookstore.

  • "The worst outcomes" of things didn't churn out this last year, like a potential UPS strike, Gillum says.
  • Rent at their one-suite business did not increase. The cost of office supplies went up, but not much. They're steadily raising wages for their six part-time employees to $15 an hour.

Between the lines: For consumers, paperback book prices have only marginally increased by $1, which hasn't deterred customers, Gillum says.

  • Hardcover books have experienced a larger price jump, averaging $30 or more, while high-demand titles like Barbara Streisand's memoir can be listed at $40 or above.
  • Customers are still buying hardcopies, but they're purchasing less during their visits, he says.

What's next: A big thing they were able to bring back in 2023 were events, including a popular "Banned Books Festival" last October.

  • They plan on continuing that success into 2024 with more events and plans to expand their space.
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