Talking Leaves has been a staple for independent bookstores in Buffalo since 1971. Its owner, Jonathon Welch, has nothing but the best intentions with his store. Welch was not the first owner of Talking Leaves, but just three years after the business started, Welch was given the opportunity to buy the store and run it with a group of friends. He did just that and opened it on Jan. 1, 1974.
Originally, Talking Leaves was located on Main Street close to University at Buffalo, where they connected with many students. After that their location on Elmwood became the main point of profit. Unfortunately, Elmwood is their only store that remains.
Independent bookstores fought for their titles for many years against chain bookstores. What many don’t take into consideration are the passionate book loving owners running the independent bookstore. Unfortunately, we have seen many driven away, but Talking Leaves still remains. According to Welch, “we actually started out as a nonprofit organization. We have never thought of ourselves as a profit based organization, we thought of ourselves as a socially conscious justice oriented business. A community entity.”
Talking Leaves was lucky to stay in business due to their mission as well as the selection of novels they provided. A goal for Welch has always been to try and find novels that stand out and are different. Along with this Welch has set out to make sure he serves the community. Since surviving the superstores like Barnes and Noble and Borders, their biggest challenge has been Amazon.
“Over the 40 years I’ve been in this business, it has changed greatly. When I first started there weren’t these big bookstores like Barnes and Noble, there were just other stores like us,” Welch said. “Superstores came around in the late ‘80s and they drove the nine to ten other stores away. ”
Amazon is a fast-growing company that originally started out in the book business but has since branched out. One of the biggest problems for independent bookstores that Amazon presents is undercutting the pricing of books, giving customers much better deals than independent bookstores can offer.
“Amazon is a much harder challenge; they are cutthroat and started selling books at less than cost. They have done this for years as they have built up their company. They not only drove small businesses away but also some of the bigger superstores,” Welch said.
Even with Amazon, Welch has still been able to keep Talking Leaves running, making it the top independent bookstore in the Buffalo area. Unfortunately, the pandemic has taken its toll on the store.
Once the pandemic hit in the spring and Welch was required to close, he created a new system to continue to sell his merchandise. For a while Welch was not allowed into his store, but once he got approval he was back and immediately began running his store online. Welch allows customers to choose their books, and he and his employees mail each order. Unfortunately Welch has had to reduce his staff from nine to three since the pandemic hit, causing a dramatic change in the workload for his staff.
“We are operating at about one-third capacity which has been a great learning experience, and also a challenge. We have discovered a lot about what it takes to run a business, our store has basically become a warehouse and because of this we have been having trouble to reopen,” Welch said.
This system is how Talking Leaves has been running for the past eight months now, but luckily Welch plans on reopening the store before the holidays. Though it won’t be the same as before, Welch still hopes that customers will understand the procedures put in place to keep everyone healthy. They will require masks, sanitization among arrival, following directional placemarkers throughout the store and maintaining social distancing.
While many changes have been made, Welch plans to fight for his store all while upholding the mission he has had since day one. Close friends have created a GoFundMe for the business in hopes of raising some money for the bookstore, giving them an opportunity to make up for what was lost in the time they had to close. Welch has been nothing but thankful to those who donate and spread the word.
“It’s been astonishing and immensely gratifying to see the support we have received during this time. We have no idea what would happen with this and are extremely stunned. We have received donations from people who aren’t in Buffalo and that has been amazing to see,” Welch said.
Welch and his bookstore have brought the community together through literature, so if you are able, please consider donating to his cause. Their GoFundMe page is easily accessible. While their goal is high, they still are blown away at what they have received so far and plan to use whatever money is given to help their store get back to normal.