Family Book Business

The co-owners (and father-daughter team) of New York City’s famous Strand Bookstore tell us about their business.

By Adam Shalvey

Fred Bass and Nancy Bass Wyden are co-owners of Strand Bookstore, a New York City icon that is famous for having 18 miles of books (although they say it’s now probably more like 22 miles). They are also father and daughter—the second and third generation of the Bass family to have run the store since Fred’s father founded it in 1927. In an age when digital retailers have consistently beat out brick-and-mortar bookstores, Strand has stayed relevant and thrived—partly because Fred and Nancy rely on data and innovation to keep the store popular with local browsers and tourists alike. We sat down to talk about working together and running the family business.

Dividing the work

Fred: I come in four days a week and do what I love—buying books. I’m at the book-buying desk all day long, and there are no dead days. Every day there’s fresh inventory coming in.

Nancy: And I manage the staff and think of new products that are right for our audience. We focus on different aspects, but we’re a team.

New ideas, new products

Fred: We have dinner at least once a week. It’s a family dinner, and we’re able to chat. Nancy has great ideas for the store and she’s made some incredible improvements.

Nancy: For example, if you’re going to buy a book, you’re going to need to put it in a bag. So we have all these really fun bags that are book-themed. We have bookmarks, book lights, postcards and stamps. With so many artists on staff as booksellers, we’re able to utilize them as our creative team.

Developing a partner

Fred: After Nancy was working here for a while, she was still the “boss’s daughter.” So one year I had her give out the end-of-year bonuses. She went and talked with our staff about their goals for the next year—how they could grow with us. I thought that was absolutely brilliant. I ended up turning over more of the operations to her.

Nancy: You did a lot of things right. When I was 16, I answered the phones. I would sharpen pencils and straighten up the kids’ books. After I went to college and earned an MBA, you gave me great advice to go out and try something very different. That other job, working for an energy company, showed me what it was like to work for a company that was very structured.

My dad gave me the same advice: “Go try something else first.”

Data wins

Nancy: We are both very data-driven. We look at a lot of sales reports. Our computer system keeps track of our sales for the last 15 years.

Fred: The latest thing that Nancy did was look at the data and figure out that customers had an easier time shopping from the tables than the shelves. So we moved things to make the shopping experience better—and she was right.

Looking into the future

Fred: I’m still working at this because it’s like a treasure hunt. Every time we open up a box of books, we don’t know what we’re going to find.

Nancy: We’re in the business of recycling ideas and inspiring people. I love working here with my dad because I love being close to him. There is so much room for us to use our strengths.


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