In a move that took many in the bookselling business by surprise, Waterstone's closed its doors for good late last week. Chris Peluso, president of the U.S. division of the London-based company, attributed the store's closing to "local competitive pressures," a blunt reminder that Chicago's bookstore wars are far from over.
Within the last 18 months two venerable local booksellers bit the dust: Kroch's & Brentano's and Stuart Brent. Most observers pointed to the giant Borders Books & Music on Michigan Avenue as the primary reason for Waterstone's demise. But Peluso, who came to Waterstone's last November after more than two years as vice president of marketing for Borders, said Waterstone's Michigan Avenue store was affected not just by the Borders next door but also by the rapid proliferation of superstores in the outlying suburbs. Yet others say Waterstone's failed to carve out a niche in the local market. "Waterstone's was never a household name in Chicago," says Barbara Stuarck, operations manager of the Barbara's Bookstore chain.
When it arrived on the Gold Coast three and a half years ago, Waterstone's was touted as the place for book lovers, offering the best new releases as well as a comprehensive selection of backlisted titles--classics and scholarly works of interest to serious readers. But with increased competition, Waterstone's began to change its strategy. In an ill-fated attempt to combat the likes of Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Crown Books, Waterstone's began offering discounts on New York Times bestsellers. Then it devoted the majority of its second floor to CDs. And after cafes proved popular at Borders and Barnes & Noble, Waterstone's decided to put one in too. In the end Waterstone's seemed like a smaller version of the superstores.
Waterstone's Peluso says the chain will now concentrate on opening outlets in airport terminals, including O'Hare. The company also expects to open between seven and ten stores in other U.S. markets, says Peluso, but those are likely to be in shopping malls.
Survey Said . . .
After months of delay, a survey analyzing the importance of the arts to residents of the Chicago metropolitan area has finally been released. The two-year study was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Sara Lee Foundation, and its results are being disseminated by the Arts Marketing Center of the Arts & Business Council of Chicago, which hopes to use the data to cultivate a larger audience for local arts events. Depending on how the study's interpreted, however, it either offers hope that there's an untapped audience for the arts or it validates fears that the arts are increasingly becoming a peripheral concern for many Chicagoans.
The study, conducted by Bob Calder of Northwestern's Kellogg Graduate School of Management, surveyed 3,000 area residents and found that arts activities fell in the middle of a wide spectrum of favorite leisure activities. At the top of the list was going out to bars, nightclubs, restaurants, and comedy clubs, something the typical survey participant did 16.2 times a year. The survey also found that Chicagoans buy lottery tickets 13.6 times a year, throw parties or go to parties about 12.2 times a year, and visit a shopping mall 10.1 times annually. The survey indicated that local residents went to one of twelve arts activities, such as attending a classical music concert or theater performance, only 9.2 times a year, just above the 8.4 times they typically attended a college or professional sporting event. Still further down the list was renting a video, which on average happened a surprisingly low 4.4 times a year.
While some arts executives were quick to play up the finding that more people patronize the arts than sporting events, the survey didn't factor in the inordinate amount of time people spend watching sports on TV. Furthermore, the study makes clear that even hard-core aesthetes don't attend art events as frequently as one might imagine. For example, according to the study, 8 percent of the total Chicago metropolitan population of 6.4 million, or about 515,000 people, could be considered loyal theatergoers. But those people only go to the theater an average of 3.6 times a year. Another 4.9 percent of the total population on average attend a play only once a year. Still, the "critical core" of respondents who attend theater an average of three times a year are highly critical of the theatergoing experience and indicate that they're inclined to go less often. A whopping 53 percent of the metro population are considered poor prospects for ever attending a live theater production.
Nevertheless, Arts Marketing Center director Julie Franz says the study can help arts executives find new ways to attract disgruntled, reluctant, or uninformed audiences. A key portion of the survey profiles the various target audiences for arts marketing executives. For instance, the survey found that the "critical core" of classical music audiences are well heeled, typically taking 18 vacation days in 1994, about 50 percent more than the average person. Franz says that, based on the survey data, classical music organizations might consider making up a flyer to give to travel agents to include when sending airline tickets to their customers.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.