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The Book Loft of German Village Celebrates 40 Years on Independent Bookstore Day

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega The Book Loft of German Village Celebrates 40 Years on Independent Bookstore DayTwo the three original Book Loft owners, Carl Jacobsma and Russ Iler.
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Ease is everything, convenience is key, and patience is passé. Still, local booksellers find a way to get people to show up, browse the shelves, stand in line, and physically pay for an item. From chain stores, to e-books, to online shopping, the threat of extinction has appeared from nearly every front. German Village’s The Book Loft has its own 40-year tale of resilience to tell, and starting tomorrow on Independent Bookstore Day, they’ll be celebrating it with events all year.

The Book Loft is hard to miss, occupying the large brick building at 631 S. Third St. that neighbors the Stauf’s coffee house.

It’s also everywhere. A sponsor of the tourism map released by the German Village Society, The Book Loft gets publicity in area hotels, the convention center and the airport. Word of mouth and effortless media coverage take care of the rest. Their 32 rooms of books, puzzles, games, and other assorted hobby items have proven to be a natural draw, enticing visitors to explore what Book Loft Sales Manager Glen Welch describes as “more like a book labyrinth than a bookstore.”

It took them a while to get there, though. When Carl Jacobsma and Roger Tompkins started The Book Loft in 1977, there were just five rooms.

“Survival was the first goal,” said Jacobsma.

They opened the store to “try it for a year.” Turns out, it was a success. They ended up selling their other business — a store of gifts, cards and books called the Village Owl — to focus on their new venture. As their fellow building tenants slowly trickled out, The Book Loft absorbed more and more space. When co-owner Russ Iler joined in 1981, they had grown to 13 rooms, and by 1992, the entire building was theirs.

The Book Loft has thrived through rises and falls in tourism, some mild IRS drama, the e-books trend and Barnes and Noble’s flailing persistence. Welch said Kindles were actually a help for the local booksellers. Thanks to cheap, 99-cent e-books, readers would find an affordable way to get to know an author, and then purchase a hardcover when the author’s next book came out. Plus, their threat didn’t last long; book lovers love…books.

The biggest, and probably least expected challenge for Jacbosma was the loss of his friend and business partner, Roger Tompkins, to Leukemia five years ago.

“That was a loss,” Jacobsma said. “And it was sort of quick, too, so it was a big challenge to continue on without him.”

Jacobsma identified Tompkins as the driving element behind the bookstore, always pushing for expansion.

“At the time we opened here, there was a lot of tourism in German Village. It was just getting started,” Jacobsma said. “But, as time went by, tourism seemed to decline somewhat, and he said we have to get big enough to draw on our own without having to rely on German Village and such to draw for us. And he was right about that. Now we’re kind of a focal point in German Village.”

It looks promising that they’ll stay that way for at least another 40 years. Along with regular sales, The Book Loft puts on events both on and off site, and participates in German Village events like Mother’s Day and Village Lights at Christmas. And, to their further advantage, reading seems to be gaining “coolness” as younger generations are reading more now than any other. Who’s to thank?

“I hate to say it, but I think Twilight and stuff helped in the beginning, you know?” said Welch. “When I first started working at The Book Loft 10 years ago, we had like, three shelving units of young adult fiction. Now we probably have about 12 or 13 shelving units, full of young adult titles.”

To celebrate their success and their loyal readers (Plural, Millennial and Baby Boomer alike), they’ll have a kick off 40 percent off sale on Saturday, April 29. Following Independent Bookstore Day, Welch is planning several followup book signings and sales throughout the year.

For more information, visit bookloft.com.

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