Opening a bookstore is a huge investment of time and money, even when the bookstore itself is small. Getting the books is just one step of many, and it may not even be the biggest expense. The store's other needs are just as important and may be far more expensive.
The larger chain bookstores bring in a lot of buyers because they are familiar names and generally have huge selections of books. What they lack, however, is a sense of community. To start, find a storefront that will house enough books for a bookstore and is in an area that gets plenty of traffic from potential customers. The store should be one that is large enough for plenty of books, but it should still have the intimate feel that brings people to smaller bookstores. The rent may end up being the largest monthly expense. Also, factor in the cost of utilities if they are not included in the rent.
Smaller bookstores can't compete with the larger, chain bookstores for selection. What they can do is to compete by being smaller, more intimate and having an eclectic selection of books. One way that many bookstores compete is to specialize in one or two types of books and to keep the store focused on those categories. To do this, the owner will have to establish a steady supply of books about those topics. The cost of those books will depend on whether they are new or used and where the owner chooses to buy them. Books bought new from the publisher or from a distributor will cost far more than buying them used. To get started, contact publishers that sell the niche books you're interested in. Ask for their wholesale prices and find out how they distribute those books. Each publisher will have its own distribution method. If wholesale prices are too high, try yard sales and thrift stores for used books.
Shelves are one of the biggest start-up costs of opening a bookstore. They will have to be tall, wide and plentiful to house enough books to interest customers. Metal shelves are generally less expensive than wooden ones, but wooden ones are usually considered more attractive. The shelves that are chosen should be adjustable to enable as many books as possible to fit on them with little wasted space. You will need enough shelves to have distinct sections of the store to house different types of book categories or subcategories. If the bookshelf budget is large, consider getting them custom made to fit the books perfectly. You can make the shelves yourself from lumber if you have the tools to cut the wood. Homemade shelves will be less expensive than wooden shelves bought at retail price.
The atmosphere of a small bookstore is something that brings people in, so that aspect of a bookstore must be given plenty of attention. If customers are choosing a small store over a larger one with a better selection, they will expect the small store to be cozy and to have an offbeat atmosphere. Consider buying a couch or two for the store to foster the intimate feel. Use plenty of colorful posters and rugs to make the place come alive with color and design. Scatter chairs throughout the store to make customers feel at home while they're shopping. Keep the place bright with floor lamps. This will make it possible for customers to read in any corner of the store.
The books, their shelves and the decor aren't the only considerations. There will also have to be checkout and office space for the owner and employees. A front counter can be used to check out customers, or a desk can double as office space and a checkout area. You will also need a cash register and signs for the window to signify your business hours.