YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – In a retail landscape dominated by big box stores and even larger online retailers, the local merchant must find a niche.
This is exactly what the owners of four recently opened stores in the Mahoning Valley are doing.
But a niche is not always enough. Traders also need to know the strategies of the behemoths in their industry and do them better.
This is what Leana’s Books and More does.
In the age of Amazon and Barnes & Noble, local booksellers haven’t opened in years. Still, Leana’s opened its third store on November 7.
The new location, at Rulli Brothers Square on Kirk Road in Austintown, joins the original site of the Shenango Valley Mall in Hermitage, Pa., And one at the outlet stores in Grove City, Pa. All are owned by Vince and Leana Hillard.
The spacious new store is divided into news and bargain books. Customers can also use Leana’s website, LeanasBooks.com, to order new books and have them delivered to the store for free, where they can pick them up.
âWe have access to up to 10 million titles,â explains Vince Hillard.
All new books sold in stores or online by Leana’s receive a 20% discount; all bargain books are sold at a 70% discount.
It’s part of a strategy the Hillards borrowed from their much larger competition.
âIf a book sells well, then all the more Amazon will put it down,â Hillard says, âbecause they know that’s mainly what [the local book shop is] will sell. This puts local businesses in bankruptcy. They earn their money from what they call “the long tail” [as illustrated by a sales graph]. If there are 10,000 books that are best selling, there are millions more that are not and they know we will not be able to [to stock them], so they earn their money with them.
Hillard says two can play this game. âI put 10 million books up for sale at 20% off,â he says.
That’s not to say its stores aren’t fully stocked for those who want to browse and shop on the spot.
The new store is well stocked with everything from fiction to non-fiction, biographies, self-help, children’s books and everything in between.
More and more inventory is constantly coming in, although the supply chain is compressing it and wreaking havoc.
âIt’s slow,â says Hillard. “This is the problem we are seeing this year.”
The slowdown in supply is also wreaking havoc with book printers, he says, as is the labor shortage.
One thing Hillard does not worry about are electronic reading devices.
âBack when Kindle was getting big, everyone said it would kill the book industry,â he says. âI knew differently. Electronic devices don’t relax at all. And how do you interact with a child when you read a book to them? We knew [the printed book] would not die.
Children’s books are always a big giveaway, and Leana has hundreds of them in the bargain section.
The Hillards select inexpensive books – which come from publishers ‘and distributors’ unsold inventories – using their own judgment. They arrive by the pallet load.
âBargain books are a lot of fun,â says Hillard. âWe get them cheaply and get a lot of variety. “
Leana has an area in the corner of the Austintown store for a coffee. The Hillards have requested information from local cafes that may have a branch there.
âI love this place,â says Hillard, who is also a commercial real estate agent. âIt’s in a neighborhood, plus it has the advantage of being next to Rulli.
Hillard notes that there are already bookstores in Boardman and Niles, “so we put one between them.”
The Austintown Leana’s Books is open daily 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
POP! ART BOOKS CULTURE
On a much smaller scale, Pop! Art Books Culture, a small second-hand book store that opened in November at 6949 Market St. in Boardman.
The shelves of Pop! are full of new and old books, as well as graphic novels and a few comics.
Colorado-native owner Craig Duster who worked in art galleries in Denver also has local art for sale.
âWe sell art and comics and everything that makes pop culture so vibrant,â says Duster, a former comic book dealer. “This store is a place where you can find things you didn’t know you needed.”
Duster aims to attract customers with low prices.
Its store is packed with titles and is organized by genre with sections for Fiction, Mystery Thrillers, Romance, Hardcover, Science, New Releases, Vintage, Business, Kids, Biographies, History, young adults, cookbooks, fantasy and science fiction.
âThe good thing about used bookstores is that you walk in and you don’t know what you want, but you see something you like and you get it for a good price,â says Duster.
âWhen the spine is bent on a book, you know someone has read it,â he continues. âIf it is dogged, it is because it has been loved. “
Pop! is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Nick Giancola has been selling home decor and gifts for years at his Spruce stores in Niles and Boardman. At its new location, a temporary shop for the holiday season in downtown Youngstown, it also sells Nostalgia.
The store is located in a former storefront space on the Phelps Street pedestrian bridge. It opened before Thanksgiving and will remain open daily until December 19. This is the third year that Giancola has had the downtown store.
âIt’s good because people have memories of shopping downtown when they were little,â says the McDonald native. âWe hear their stories. And there’s a nostalgic feeling to walk into a store like this in downtown Youngstown and experience Christmas. We try to make the store very magical.
In this he succeeded. The Youngstown store exudes the warmth of yesteryear. It is full of charming items that bring a sense of wonder.
The merchandise does not come from local artisans; everything is made by holiday decorating companies.
âThe way we display it helps make the products comfortable and welcoming,â says Giancola.
The price range is wide but leaves no one behind. âPart of our mission is to stay affordable,â he says. âEveryone who enters here has purchasing power. We are here for you to find something beautiful.
Among the more expensive items in the store is a box-sized centerpiece that’s an old-fashioned TV model with a bustling holiday scene in its window. It plays holiday songs and costs $ 400.
There are also much smaller versions for $ 75.
The original Spruce, 600 Robins Ave., Niles, opened in 2014. The Boardman site, at Huntington Place Plaza on US Route 224, opened in 2017.
Giancola has considered keeping the Youngstown location open year round with a rotating stock to reflect the seasons. But he says the downtown shopping landscape will have to improve before he does.
âPeople want to go back to shopping downtown and that’s our little contribution to that,â he says.
In any case, Giancola likes the location in the city center. The retro architecture of the room, with its wooden frontage, fits into the decor of the store and lends itself well to nostalgia for the merchandise.
âWhen it comes to the holidays, everyone wants to remember,â he says.
MAISON MARY ANN CHOCOLATES
The ultimate mom-and-pop boutique might just be Mary Ann’s homemade chocolates in Columbiana.
The cozy store is on the ground floor of a 90-year-old house at 24 W. Salem St., where owner and chocolate maker Mary Ann Flesse and her husband, Bill, live and manufacture their products.
The store opened on Quiet Street in the summer of 2020. It is a few blocks north of downtown, with its antique and craft shops, and it fits in perfectly with the ‘atmosphere.
Buyers walk through the front door of the house and find themselves in a small storage room where boxed assortments are displayed on shelves. They can also choose their own selection of chocolates from the display case and pay by the pound.
Chocolates come in various special forms; Flesse even makes a “slice of pizza” for Jab’s Pizza in Lake Milton. It is sold in his shop and at Jab.
âI’ve been making chocolate since the early 1970s,â explains Flesse, who also once had a pastry business.
The Wellsville native who has lived much of her life in Hubbard and her husband moved to Columbiana in 2015.
âWe retired and got bored with retirement,â she says. âI said, ‘I have the recipes, let’s open a chocolate factory and see what we can do. Columbiana doesn’t have any other chocolate or confectionery store, so here we are.
Mary Ann’s Homemade Chocolates keeps customers posted on her Facebook page, but most of her business comes from walk-in sales.
In addition to homemade chocolates, Mary Ann’s also sells chocolate coated chips and pretzels, sugar-free and gluten-free items, and hard candy.
The store is open Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
In the photo above: Vince Hillard is in Leana’s Books and More’s new location in Austintown. Hillard and his wife, Leana, own the store.