Bruce Lawson, owner of Booksmart, plans on closing the longtime Keizer store if a buyer isn’t found by the end of July. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

As a former accountant, Bruce Lawson can fairly accurately pinpoint when things started taking a turn for the worse at his store, Booksmart, River Road’s longtime bookstore.

“Once the build-out was complete at Keizer Station, I noticed a loss. Not huge, but noticeable,” Lawson said.

He quickly points out that it wasn’t the only factor in deciding to put the shop up for sale.

“The first hit when the city moved the retail center out to the freeway, then The Great Recession dealt the store another blow. Now, it’s e-books,” Lawson said.

If a buyer for the store isn’t found by Aug. 1, Lawson plans to start a going-out-of-business sale with the intent to shutter the doors Sept. 1.

“I probably could have survived one or two of the problems, but all three is just too much,” Lawson said.

Literature devotees still show up at the door, but Lawson said it’s casual business and orders for new books that have suffered the most in recent years.

“It seems like there’s a lot fewer casual purchasers. When they used to have a lot of meetings down at the hotel, I would get a lot of business from that. There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of stopping and shopping,” he said.

He hoped that the closing of Salem’s Borders location would lead to more new book orders, but even that hope fizzled quickly.

“There was a time when  I never missed a week of new books order (there’s a 10 book minimum). Starting a couple of years ago, there was a week here or there and now it’s to the point where I might have a new book order once a month,” Lawson said.

In 15 years as owner of the shop, it’s easier now to look back and see where he might have made different decisions, but even those were guided by his data-driven nature.

“There were more changes I would have made if I’d had the money, but I think I would have done more advertising. But even the advertising I did didn’t create a noticeable uptick in business,” Lawson said. “Surprisingly, there’s still a lot of people who drop in and say, ‘I’ve lived in Keizer all my life and didn’t even know you were here.’”

Having watched many River Road businesses come and go in short order his advice for anyone planning to open up a new business in the area is have a year’s worth of rent and expenses in the bank.

Whether the store changes hands or closes, Lawson is already planning photography expeditions to Big Bend National Park in Texas and Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. While there is much he expects to miss about the business, Lawson is far from downbeat about the experience.

“It’s always been easy in the sense that I enjoy it,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a bit tougher going home when not much has happened during the day, but I never thought of it as ever being difficult. I met a lot of people I thoroughly enjoyed being around,” he said.