Books are dead. At least that's what they say. But Parnassus Books, the small independent bookstore of Nashville, Tennessee, was able to make itself a household name where two monolithic book seller chains had once failed.

Ann Patchett and Karen Hayes, co-owners of Parnassus Books, found enormous success in the "dying" industry of independent bookstores. Their secret? Seeing what bigger chains couldn't do and capitalizing on it.

Clowns To The Left, Jokers To The Right

When best-selling author Ann Patchett first shared her dream of opening a bookstore in her home of Nashville, naysayers were very vocal about their doubts. Patchett recalls how locals would say, "opening a bookstore is the stupidest thing you could do...you might as well be selling eight-track tapes. It's dead; it's over."

One friend questioned if Patchett had let her literary success go to her head, saying, "you're like a really good cook who thinks she should open a restaurant."

Still, Patchett didn't back down. But it wasn't just pure determination or heart that helped Patchett succeed--strategy had its role as well.

Patchett observed that there had previously been two larger chain bookstores in the area that had done well. Both these bookstores were profitable, but both were forced to close due to larger issues. Patchett figured, if they could do well, why couldn't she?

Are Local Book Stores Dead or Simply Forgotten?

As Patchett began her book tour for her new novel, State of Wonder, she used her speaking opportunities to promote Parnassus Books.

In speaking about her independent bookstore venture, interviewers would time and time again gently break the news to her--bookstores were dead. Didn't she know?

However, interviewers would often follow up their despondent bookstore remarks with nostalgic musings about their own childhood bookstore hangouts. They missed their local independent bookstores, which once served as centers of community. Off the record, some interviewers admitted maybe Patchett had the right idea. Off the record, of course.

Substituting Computer Algorithms for Community

Patchett was confident that Parnassus Books could work. They would substitute Amazon suggested reading algorithms for staff favorite shelves, and swap one-click carts with community events and author talks.

Parnassus Books' grand opening turned into an all-day celebration, complete with morning kiddie puppet shows and late evening white and cheese tastings. Throughout the day, as 3,000 locals came to support the newly launched independent bookstore, news outlets like NPR and The Today Show flocked for interviews.

Today, 3 years after opening, Parnassus Books is a flourishing center of community activity, book clubs, author lectures, and good ol' fashioned reading.

Without intending it, Patchett found herself as the spokesperson for independent bookstores--not dying, as some had thought, but instead alive, thriving, and welcomed into the community with open arms.

Published on: Jun 30, 2015