By Nathan Ress
In an interview with The Griffin this week, Jonathon Welch, founder of Talking Leaves Books, confirmed that the 3158 Main St. location will be closing in the near future. There is not a set final day for the store, but Welch plans to have the close complete within the next few months. The Talking Leaves location at 951 Elmwood will remain open, with inventory from the Main St. location being consolidated there.
While this is certainly a sad day for the Buffalo literary community, Welch is seeing the closing as more of an opportunity and a positive next step in the stores history than as a disaster.
“We see this as a consolidation and a strengthening of Talking Leaves,” said Welch.
The store was first founded in 1971 as a bookstore co-op, and was later taken over by Welch and officially named Talking Leaves in 1975. The store has gone through a few moves throughout the years, but has always remained in the University Heights neighborhood of Main St., close to the University at Buffalo’s South Campus.
Welch attributed the closing to, among other things, a “changing retail landscape” both locally and nationally for Talking Leaves and bookstores in general. The University Heights neighborhood has experienced diminished retail in the area as of late, with businesses moving out in favor of restaurants and bars. This change has had an effect on foot traffic and people frequenting the neighborhood, making them less likely to browse the various shops and businesses in the area, a phenomenon that is less true in the Elmwood Village.
Welsh explained that much of the store’s business and intended purpose was based on individuals who would browse the location. People would come into the store and spend a large amount of time inside, looking through the stacks and potentially discovering new things as they went along. This browsing period would allow people to get comfortable with the store and eventually buy a book or two.
With the decrease in foot traffic in the neighborhood this model is no longer as sustainable, and Welsh sees many customers spending a great deal less time in the store.
Furthermore, the way people buy books has been changing for some time now with the advent of big-name bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and internet markets such as Amazon. Welch has watched this process take place since the early 1980s when chain stores began to take hold.
By the 1990s, these stores had made a serious dent in the business of many independent bookstores nationwide, which had been the backbone of the book market until then. These big stores then in turn began to be threatened in the 2000s by Amazon and other online sellers, a trend that continues today. Welch noted that this pattern changed the way people shopped for books, effectively eliminating the browsing method.
However, despite all of this, small independent bookstores are reversing their odds and making a comeback. Welch said that by 2009, the number of small stores was growing and customers were starting to return to these stores. In this way, Welch urges that the closing of Talking Leaves Main St. is “very opposite [of] the trend.” He attributes the closing more to regional economic struggles than national trends.
“It’s always been a struggle,” Welch said.
All of this added up to what Welch called “a perfect storm of sorts.” Despite everything, he adds, “we are in fact looking forward to this change.” He is framing the closing in a positive light and looking forward to making the most of the Elmwood location. He even hinted at a potential blowout of some sort on the final few days of business.
This close does not come in a vacuum, and Welch says he has received plenty of feedback and condolences from people regarding the closing, both from people in Buffalo and abroad. This is to be expected for a store which has been a part of Buffalo for over 40 years.
One of these supporters of Talking Leaves and local book culture in general is Canisius’ own Dr. Cochrane, English Department Chair. Cochrane called talking leaves a “treasure, a magical place.” He is a long-time friend of Welch’s and calls the Talking Leaves founder “someone who really found his calling.” This is high praise considering Welch began the business all those years ago without any experience.
As for the closing, Cochrane is, of course, upset as many others are, but he warns that “this is not the obituary for Talking Leaves.” He, like Welch, stresses that the store will remain open in its Elmwood location and will remain a key figure in the Buffalo literary community.
Cochrane does urge people to frequent all local and independent bookstores as often as possible, browsing and finding the treasures inside. His message is simple: if you like the shop, go there. This is a message backed up by Welch, who said, “Ultimately the success of any business is based on the public’s willingness to support it.”