Being present in the pre-internet era, there are items at the bookstore that you cannot find anywhere else. This cult has become part of the stores image and reputation
The American Book Center is a family-owned bookstore that originated in Amsterdam, which opened its doors in 1972. Since starting out in the Seventies, the bookstore has branched out contributing to stores in Amsterdam, Hague and a pop-up store in Amstelveen. The owner and founders of the business are Lynn Kaplanian Buller and her husband, who have passed the business down through each generation of their family. Director and manager of the American Book Center, Martijn Meerts describes Lynn as being the heart and soul of the American Book Center. «They are semi-retired now. Her children have grown up and worked in the store. Her son left the company this month due to his aspirations of travelling. She is the mother of the company and overlooks every decision that is made».
Martijn Meets and the supporting team behind the American Book Center chooses their stock based on customer interaction. «We do not use wholesalers; we are able to import our stock ourselves. This process allows us to receive discounts from publishers and sales representatives. They offer us items that they believe will be an asset in our store». Being present in the pre-internet era, there are items at the bookstore that you cannot find anywhere else. This cult has become part of the store’s image and reputation. «We listen to our customers; they are informed in chosen sections. We create interest and push our products». The company does not take part in centralized-buying. The products are curated by employees using their area of expertise which makes the position of a book buyer rewarding. The store started out as American Discount Books due to their approach of selling remaining books and magazines that came from America, giving students, teachers and purchasers of paper discount cards ten percent off the price. «We offer a ten percent reduction to students; they are our clients of the future. We provide money off products when bought in quantities. Seniors over the age of sixty-five and teachers when registered can claim our discounted prices». Dutch bookstores have to abide by the fixed price of items and in turn are not allowed to give customers a discounted price because of the national-law. Due to the American Book Center bypassing this rule, they have competition when it comes to internet sellers because they can set their price with English language books.
The American Book Center is known for their efforts of being up-to-date with latest-demands. They became one of the first stores to stock new-age, LGBTQ+ and science-fiction novels. «We have a book club regarding LGBTQ+ and we have found gender books to be of choice in our store. We have books in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement. People want to be informed and are expecting us to have books on these subjects. It is nice to be able to meet that demand and contribute to a part of society’s growth and education». The store sells a choice of books and magazines catered to personalities and interests. Over the years, they have expanded by selling art and gift products. «I would like to include music and vinyl if there was room and demand», says Meerts. The American Book Center has forty-five employees, with half of them being there for over ten years. The store is described as ‘happy chaos’. The team represents over seven-hundred years of combined bookselling experience. «We approach tasks as they come. When a task arrives, we teach ourselves and go with the flow. Our marketing and social media team started as booksellers and have worked their way up the career ladder». In the past, the American Book Center has said that they do not advertise for staff and welcome anyone who wishes to work there, to apply. Having a medium-sized team, the store’s staff stay on for long-periods of time. If looking for a member of staff in a state of urgency, they do advertise on social media due to its reach and response time.
The Amsterdam store is housed inside a building on the tree-lined Spui square, in the heart of Amsterdam. It moved from its venue due to the company wishing to downsize. «The previous location had four floors that were stores unto themselves. Business slowed down after the internet and it didn’t make sense to stay in a space we did not need. We have moved to a venue where the square has two other bookstores and a book market. We think of it as a downsize, not a downgrade». The Amsterdam store is jam-packed. There are books displayed on every wall, tree trunk figures around the store and table displays. «We used to have a location where we held book events, it was named ‘the tree house’. We no longer have that store but our book wall and corkscrew design of the tree elements in store portray a tree house». Each store differs from one another. Amsterdam is the eye-catcher and has been listed as one of the ‘most beautiful bookshops’ in the world. «I remember that it was mentioned in Monocle Magazine», states Meerts. «We like to call a book-heaven». The store in Hague is not as striking, but relies on its homely-atmosphere. There are books crammed in and it is like a treasure hunt. «The government is situated here, along with international-schools which is why Hague has a demographic that does not match that of Amsterdam». The Amstelveen location is a pop-up store and not a long-term location. «We would consider a residence in the future but built the pop-up during the coronavirus pandemic». The store has plenty of experience doing pop-ups. Over the years, they have visited book fairs such as Dutch Comic Con. «We bought cardboard shelves for our pop-up stalls, which we use in Amstelveen. There are events taking place in Amsterdam and people approach us to come along and sell books. Book trade has gone down in the last ten years due to the kickstart of the internet and social media. We have to think of ways to find the customers when they aren’t coming to you», says Meerts. The American Book Center is expecting the launch of a store in March 2021. «We have been planning this for two years. A couple of kilometers from here, Westfield is building ‘the largest mall of the Netherlands’, and it will be called The Mall of the Netherlands. Being the smallest of our stores, we are expecting an amount of traffic in this store because of where it will be situated», exclaims the director.
The founders of the American Book Center began a tradition of challenging bookstores during the Seventies and Eighties. They kept the bookstore open seven days a week from 9am to 11pm. «I remember the American Book Center was one of the first stores to not stick to conventional-opening hours. These are not accurate anymore. The Hague store is open from 9am to 7pm, and the Amsterdam store is open from 9am to 8pm». Managing to stay afloat in a cut-price, multinational, online-bookselling world, Meets says, «we have been able to provide services online for our customers. We have altered our website during lockdown, our customers can order books from there. We host online events and book clubs which we will carry on doing after the pandemic». Apart from their online website, the book shop engages on social media platforms. The store has developed a book lover box. A purchase designed to surprise the customer with a box of books tailored to their preferences and size. «We are hoping to expand this idea into a subscription for our customers. We are a functioning store and have been one. We adapt to the online trade and interact, but we would not be able to function and stay open solely as an online bookstore».
The team organizes meetings with authors, signings of books, conferences on subjects, workshops for writers, open-mic nights, performances from local-artists and book clubs. Betty the Bookmaking Machine was introduced to the store in 2010. An invention used for readers and aspiring-writers to make their books to sell in the store. «In order to keep books moving to new-readers, we hold Trade-In-Days and book donation drives for Better World Books. We have specialized in helping Dutch schools choose English books for their pupils since 2015. In spite of changes in the book industry and reader preferences, after over forty-five years, we intend to remain a curated, human-run, independent-center for American and English language books for our book lovers».IMAGE GALLERY
The American Book Center