Local bookstore chain in Louisville, Kentucky. Opened in June, 1978 by two Louisville couples (each couple consiting of a Legal Aide lawyer and his wife, a teacher), Hawley-Cooke was, for many years, the best thing going for book lovers in Louisville. Known for a wide selection of books and music, cumfy chairs, and adjoining cafes (originally titled, I believe 'The Open Book Cafe', back in a day when cafes in bookstores were a novel idea (at least in Kentucky)), Hawley-Cooke was the first of the 'mega-bookstores' to open in Louisville. For a time, it was one of the most succesful independent bookstore chains in the United States. The available titles (and the size of the store) dwarfed anything else that was available at the time- mostly mall chains like Waldenbooks, and a few smaller independent shops.
Being a local chain, Hawley-Cooke had a knack for local flavor. Kentucky authors and luminaries like Wendell Barry held signings, local authors were picked up and distributed, and local knick-knacks and souveigneirs dotted the gift section of the store. For many years, Hawley-Cooke was the premier bookseller in Louisville- a good place to read, a good place to bump in to friends, and even a good place to bring a date. It was a living Louisville landmark.
The beginning of the end for the Hawley-Cooke chain came with the rise of the national mega-chains, along with several flubbed attempts at expansion. The two origonal Hawley-Cooke locations were on Gardner Lane in the Highlands and on Shelbyville Road in St. Mathews. Both were excellent spots- well laid out, spacious, and located near major commercial or cultural centers. In 1981, an early attempt was made at expansion with the opening of a store on Main Street in downtown Louisville. Like every attempt to revive downtown, the move was ill-fated and soon folded (in 1982).
In the early ninties, Hawley-Cooke began to open cafes as part of their stores (called 'The Open Books Cafe'). They sported a small and ecclectic menu, and the usual selection of coffies and other beverages. At about the same time, a new outlet opened, this time on Brownsboro Road. The choice of location seemed questionable at best. There were few other commercial draws in the area, other than a few restaurants, and the existing St. Mathews store was only 5 minutes away- hen feed in auto-happy, freeway-covered Louisville. The layout of the new store- split over several levels, with few real aisles and space taken up by the cafe, a travel office, an oft-empty customer service area, and a conversation area around a fireplace- was needlessly complex, and not as welcoming as the other stores. Sales suffered.
In 2001, the St. Mathews store underwent a major rebuild following the renovation of the surrounding strip-center. The shelf space was greatly reduced, the cafe vanished, and the layout morphed into a multi-level wind suspiciously similar to the ill-fated Bronwnsboro store (which closed in 2002). The renovation was unpopular, to say the least. The selection of books was greatly reduced, partly due to space, and partly in favor of more knick-knack gifts.
But probably the biggest thorn in the side of the local chain was the entry of large, national chains into what had previously been a nearly captive market. Barnes and Noble sprung up on Hurstborne Lane in the mid 1990's, and former Christian bookstore chain Books-a-Million edged into HC's territory with a store at the new commercial complex near the Tinstle Town cinema off Westport Road. The new national chains were well-funded and saavy; they snapped up prime retail locations in Lousiville, tailored their stock to local tastes, and offered a wide selection at low-prices. Barnes & Noble does an excellent job of attempting to create an inviting atmosphere, with open architecture and ample comfy chairs. Books-a-Million, while looking more like a mall bookstore with a hormone problem, carries giant tables of remainder books at rock bottom prices (I got an unabridged, hard-back, single-volume copy of D.T. Suzuki's Zen and Japanese Culture for nine bucks once!) and caters to local religious inclinations with a large selection of Christian inspirational books (and some of the weirdest, hyper-religious Christmas music ever heard; I recall distinctly hearind lyrics on the order of 'Praise Jesus, Santa Claus is coming to town', as well as something about God breathing life into Frosty the Snowman.) Even long-time fans of the local chain found themselves straying.
The other foot dropped in August of 2003, when the owners of Hawley-Cooke (the Cooke and Schutze families- 'Hawley' was invented because, as Mr. Schutze told us on 'Career Day', "The smartest thing I ever did was not put my name on my business") announced that the chain would be sold to national mega-retail chain Borders. Borders had already announced plans to enter the Louisville market, with a store at the corner of Hurstbourne Lane and Taylorsville Road (no doubt to compete with Barnes and Noble), and one located in the Galleria on 4th Street (because they have some sort of business death wish). The existing stores will be converted into Borders, and all the current employees will be offered positions with the new chain. The degree to which Borders will succed (or even attempt) at capturing the local flavor that Hawley-Cooke once so efortlessly attained remains to be seen.
For 25 years, Hawley-Cooke was center for the local litterati. It's passing marked the end of an era for Louisville. Its story has been told in towns and cities all over the U.S as big(er) business and the Internet work their magic on the landscape. Hawley-Cooke wil be remembered long after its creepy, infinite image-within-an-image bags are long forgotten.