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Small bookstores show way to survive

By Katie Byard
Beacon Journal business writer

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Linda Snowball, owner of the Snowball Bookshop in Barberton, holds one of her bookshop cats named "Avery." (Paul Tople/Akron Beacon Journal)

The Snowball Bookshop has seen a lot of retail neighbors come and go in downtown Barberton.

There was a jewelry store, a furniture shop, a collectibles emporium and more in the renovated historic brick building on Tuscarawas Avenue that is home to the bookshop.

The Snowball Bookshop — a cozy place that is home to three cats and more than 100,000 titles — is now in its 17th year in the Tracy Building.

“It’s a passion really, a labor of love for everyone who has worked here,” said owner Linda Snowball, who continues to compete in a market invaded by e-books and online discounters.

“It’s just such a delight to get the right book to the person who wants it,” said Snowball, who also has a full-time consulting job, working with corporate records.

Today, the Beacon Journal’s “It’s A Wrap” holiday shopping feature takes a look at local indie bookstores surviving in the digital, post-Borders age. The stores, with the exception of Learned Owl in Hudson, deal primarily, if not all, in used books.

We’re including the area’s two well-stocked comic book shops in the Akron area, Kenmore Komics & Games and JC Comics & Cards in Cuyahoga Falls.

• Snowball Bookshop: Has used and some new books at 564 West Tuscarawas Ave., Barberton. Phone: 330-745-9292.

Look for the storefront windows decked out for Christmas. There’s Santa, Mrs. Claus, and of course, books on display. Creaking floors, brick walls and a sign that says “Watch for cats escaping” add to the charm of this crowded, well-organized shop.

All used hardcover and trade paperbacks are discounted 50 percent this month.

In stock are healthy supplies of mass-market paperbacks, cookbooks, religious books, and children’s books. Snowball Books, like other used bookstores, sells online. But Linda Snowball said that large-volume discounters have put a big crimp in her online revenues.

• Learned Owl: New books at 204 North Main St., Hudson. Phone: 330-653-2252.

Owner Liz Murphy announced this year that she was looking to sell the store she bought nearly three decades ago.

The shop has become a place to go for fun book-related happenings, everything from author appearances to Harry Potter bashes.

Murphy said she’s had about 30 inquiries, and “I still have three interested people who I am talking to.”

Learned Owl has a foot in the digital world. It sells the Kobo e-reader, and shoppers can go online to buy e-books.

• The Bookseller Inc.: Used, rare and out-of-print books at 39 Westgate Circle, Akron. Phone: 330-865-5831.

Eighty-six-year-old Frank Klein, son of the founder, runs this 60-plus-year-old business with his two daughters. It has large collections of military and Ohio-centric books, as well as other genres. The shop, tucked in the back of the Westgate shopping center, recently bought hundreds of Civil War history books — perfect for holiday presents for history buffs, said Andrea Klein, one of Frank’s daughters.

• Buckeye Bookshop: Used books at 795 Brittain Road, Akron. Phone: 330-794-2455.

Bill Chappelear, a former high school librarian, has been selling used books in the former Lawson’s store since 1991. Chappelear said he’s got 60,000 titles crowded into the place, including thousands of mass-market paperbacks. Through December, he’s offering a 30 to 50 percent discount on hardcover and trade paperback titles.

• Kenmore Komics: 1020 Kenmore Blvd., Akron. Phone: 330-745-5530.

John Buntin Jr. celebrated 25 years in business in May, treating customers to a free screening of The Avengers. Popular graphic novels have helped to spur sales, Buntin said, with the Walking Dead zombie series (which spawned the AMC cable TV show) being a big favorite. He also carries table-top games and comic-theme gifts.

• JC Comics & Cards: 2609 State Road, Cuyahoga Falls. Phone: 330-929-1929.

It’s also a zombie Christmas at this shop, which also stocks Walking Dead titles. John Cameron started the business in a small shopping strip in 1990, right out of college. “It pays the bills most of the time. It feeds my four kids.”

• Little Bits & Books: 443 W. Market St., Akron. Phone: 330-631-8338.

This is perhaps the newest entrant in the Akron used-book market. It opened last month, and sells antiques and vintage items, as well as used books. Used-book fans may recognize the name of the shop’s co-owner, Jeff Keener III. He also works at the Bookseller Inc.

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or