Indiana's Most Beloved Bookstore

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Take a trip to Hyde Bros bookstore in Fort Wayne, Indiana where you'll learn how two brothers turned a mid-life crisis into one of the community's most beloved bookstores.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Will Fazekas | September 20, 2018 

“Part of it is creating an experience. It’s not a major emphasis, but it just happens. If you have people coming in that just love books, then that part of the conversation happens automatically, without much effort.”

Sam Hyde and his brother opened their store in 1998 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and for the last 8 years, Sam has become full proprietor. But how did this all come about? According to Hyde, “It was a mid-life crisis thing. A book my brother and I had in our garage was What Color is your Parachute. It’s a mid-life change, career change book that kind of steers you into identifying your strengths, weaknesses, experiences. Starting a new career was something you like to do, and I already had some skill at.” Thus, Sam and his brother took the leap, and what started as a mid-life crisis, has since become a flourishing book shop that has been around for the last two decades.

Being that they were at the age of 40 at the time, the two brothers figured they were not going back to school, and they both liked books, and decided to try and parlay that into a new place in what has always been a college town. And so, Hyde Bros was born.

It was difficult to talk about the idea of owning an independent bookstore without addressing the names of Amazon and Barnes and Noble, however.

“Yea we shopped around the Midwest quite a bit. The competition was really the little bookstores. Mom-and pop’s, one of a kind,” explained Sam. When Hyde Bros first opened their doors, the big competitors known today did not exist. The tension was between the “little guys,” What was competition 25-30 years ago is not so much anymore though. Now, they try to cooperate and refer to one another. But Hyde Bros, much like other independent shops, has not only dealt with big name brands, but with other stores located in their own backyard.

“For us, was the local big, used bookstore Half-Priced Books, kind of like one in a million,” said Hyde. “They moved into Ft. Wayne maybe 12 years ago. They drove out most of the little used bookstores, but left us what was left.” And not only were they what was left, but they came to amass 195 to 250 thousand unique books. This, is where their strength has remained all the years they have been open. “The strength we have is in the things nobody else has. That means the top ten bestsellers are not the books we sell,” according to Hyde.

What the big names like Amazon and Barnes and Noble have always done, has been to constantly update their selection of books, always advertising whatever is in the now. But what Sam Hyde has done, is leant his focus on one thing, one thing that has brought in a particular community. According to Hyde, “I had a guy come in yesterday, he shopped around, asked at the library, asked at other bookstores, every time he asked who would have anything to do with antique, rare books, they mentioned us.” Even the little guys, who once were their primary competition, have turned people towards their doors. And it has been this way because they never lost sight of what made them special.

Despite the Hyde brothers having been at it for 25 years, and having handled a lot of books, there were still changes that had to be made. They created a platform for themselves on Twitter and Facebook, but at what cost? What would they sacrifice to stay relevant in Indiana, and throughout the business as a whole? 

For Sam, he has always been driven by his staff. “The staff is much more knowledgeable on social media than I am, and I said well just do what you want to do. We’ve got the books, we’ve got the knowledge, and you parlay that into whatever you think works.”

The truth was that Hyde Brothers Booksellers never truly drifted far from their roots, despite what they have done to adapt to today’s technology focused society. Whereas some stores now attempt to create an experience for their customers, whether that means implementing a bar, or taking a unique twist on a classic aspect of book shops, Sam Hyde never bought into all of this. Rather, it was never about entertaining people enough to get them into the store, but giving them a place to enjoy books, and nothing has quite portrayed this more than their midnight events. As described by Hyde, “We’ll have beer, wine, cheese, and cookies, and we’d do a couple of midnight events that have proven to be extremely popular. And that’ll be around 200 people packed into a store, the fire marshal would shut us down if he saw the crowd.” So, what is to say that size crowd will show up again, or how will they attract a new following? Sam Hyde has always had a simple answer, one that he has lived by throughout the last two decades.

“They’ll find us. I mean it’s that old, they’ll come theory, field of dreams,” according to Hyde. “A certain percentage of the market is going to find us. And that might not be 90 percent of the book buyers, it might be 20 percent. But they’ll find us.” That’s the key, according to Sam, it has always been that way. “If you have people coming in that just love books, then that part of the conversation happens automatically, without much effort.” What Amazon and Barnes and Noble cannot offer, these meaningful relationships between store and customer.

“I’d say talk to the customers,” that has been the key according to Hyde. “The customers drive the business. If they are going to come back, they have to find something they are interested in. If somebody comes in and walks out empty handed, I feel like I failed.” After all, that has always been the point of independent bookstores.

Through Sam’s perspective, “I’m well past the age when I could’ve retired,” not that he would want to, however.

The love he has had for books and people has gone way beyond the money, or the number of sales he has had. The emphasis has always been on the customers and what his store has stood for. And according to Sam Hyde, who has survived in Ft. Wayne, Indiana for the last 20 years, he knows that as long as you put the people first, and never lose sight of what you are doing it for, independent bookstores will not be going anywhere anytime soon.


Submitted: March 14, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Will Fazekas. All rights reserved.

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88 fingers

Great article. I like the independent bookstores. You can browse and talk to the staff. Or end up and talk to other customers. In NYC, The Strand bookstore is my favorite.

Sun, March 14th, 2021 6:56pm

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