Independent bookseller, supporters seek intervention against big-box retailer by Elk Grove City Council

The owner of a Seat at the Table urging the city council to block the entry of a big-box retailer to Elk Grove. | 

During the public comment section of their Wednesday, February 8 meeting, the Elk Grove City Council heard heartfelt pleas from the owner of an Elk Grove-based independent bookseller and six supporters to help the business survive.

The threat to the business, A Seat at the Table bookstore and coffee shop are plans for big-box book retailer Barnes and Noble to open an Elk Grove store. Among those appearing before the city council was A Seat at the Table's owner, Emily Autenrith (see the video below for her complete commentary).

In her comments, Autenrith highlighted the numerous services and outreach efforts the bookstore offers customers and clients. She also stressed the business is in synch with the city's diverse population.

"We are not only a bookstore cafe but a diversity-focused and community space," she said. "We offer free and affordable cultural celebration, workshops, affinity groups, and author events that reflect our community." 

After itemizing the various program and services A Seat at the Table offers, Autenrith added, "Corporations can't offer this to Elk Grove's families."

As well documented for decades, small independent businesses are often forced out of business when big-box retailers enter a market. Another injury inflicted on independent bookstores and other small businesses came during the COVID-19 closures that pushed more customers to online book purchases. 

Autenrith noted that her business already competes with Elk Grove's Target, Walmart, and Costco stores, and the city has a challenging small business environment.  

"Elk Grove is also a different place for small businesses because it grew so fast, and corporations moved in, inflating rent and training customers," she said.

Along with Autenrith, six other individuals commented in support of A Seat at the Table while urging the city council to intervene and block the establishment of the Barnes and Noble store. Although the retailer has yet to make any applications with the city, they are reportedly negotiating with Pappas Development for their proposed The Village project on Elk Grove Boulevard and Big Horn Road.   

After hearing the comments, Elk Grove Mayor Bobbies Singh-Allen empathized with all the concerns expressed but noted since the topic was not an agenda item, they could not specifically address the issue. Furthermore, she said the city council cannot address their issues as it would be a lease agreement between a tenant and landlord. 

"This is not our decision, and it's not coming before the council," Singh-Allen said. "If there are discussions happening between the developer and a prospect, we are not involved in those."

The collective concerns voiced by the speakers were best summarized by Autenrith, who said Barnes and Noble coming to Elk Grove would be disastrous for the bookseller.

"Putting a Barnes and Noble in town won't be a question of if we fail, but when," she said. 

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Capt. Benjamin Willard said...

We can appreciate Ms. Autenrith's concern about a massive competitor coming to Elk Grove. She realizes it could ruin her business.

I would offer this one amplification, however. When she praised the Why Buy Local campaign as a benefit to small business owners, that wasn't the real purpose of the campaign.

California cities are always seeking additional tax revenue, which comes from thousands of large purchases at big box stores, not a few thousand dollar worth of purchases at small businesses. From the city's perspective, there are never enough big box stores.

They talk about supporting small businesses, but in reality their eyes are on the bigger prize - massive sales tax revenues generated by the big boxes.

D.J. Blutarsky said...

Even if Seat at the Table catered to the Siamese twin population or left-handers having one brown eye and one blue eye--it doesn't matter, this is a capitalist economy last time I checked.

Now I will admit that the City's overly generous economic incentive packages have created an uneven playing field in the retail market which runs afoul of the free-market edict of capitalism, singling out a particular chain to ban is a lawsuit waiting to happen--can you say Oak Rose Apartments?

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