Changing Hands Bookstore: Bettering the Community for Good

As a customer, it’s important to remember that you vote with every dollar you spend. For every $100 that you spend at a locally owned business, $73 dollars stay in the local economy while only $43 stay local if you shop at a non-locally owned business. In Phoenix, and all over Arizona, there are many small businesses that provide a lot of unique and different opportunities for customers. Growing up and living in Central Phoenix, I have personally seen the many benefits of supporting local shopping. As I’ve gotten older, I have seen more local businesses popping up in my neighborhood and it has been amazing to see their impact on the community. One particular local business that I love to frequent is Changing Hands Bookstore. I chose to work with the owners of Changing Hands as part of a high school project creating a customer satisfaction survey, which I conducted at the store and presented the results to the owners. To my amazement, there was an 100% satisfaction rate. I will always recommend them to anyone I can.

                 Photo courtesy of Changing Hands Bookstore 

                 Photo courtesy of Changing Hands Bookstore 

Changing Hands opened its doors on April 1, 1974, (In Tempe) and has grown a lot since then, and has really helped its surrounding vibrant community. Through community involvement, collaboration with other small businesses, and supporting local, Changing Hands has made a difference in the community. They are constantly bringing in established authors to their store and have been a strong supporter of Local First Arizona since the beginning. I want you to see the reasons I love this special bookstore that is so much more than a regular bookstore. Recently, I interviewed Bob Sommer, co-owner and CFO of Changing Hands, and one of the three founders of the business.

                      A view of the Tempe store

                      A view of the Tempe store

What is the significance of your business' name, Changing Hands?

“We started as a very small (400 sq ft) used bookstore. People would bring us their books to trade for ones they hadn't read. Others just came into the shop, browsed about, and chose books off the shelves which they purchased for cash, which we then used to pay the rent on our space. In any case, the books were changing hands from one person to another, thus the name.”

When originally starting with this dream, what were the goals of Changing Hands and how have they changed over the years?

“We wanted to sell books, of course, because we were all avid readers. We also had a vision of a place where people could meet others who loved books and talk about the ones they found useful or informative or just loved. Those are still our goals but we've added a couple more: being fair with our employees and giving back some of our profits to local, national, and international charities and service organizations.”

What makes Changing Hands different from other bookstores, specifically local ones?

“We carry a wide selection of new and used books plus many gift items. We offer a full calendar of events for children, teens, and adults. We are locally owned and independent.”

How does Changing Hands positively affect the community?

“We believe that books can change lives and can certainly enhance the quality of life. We know that the money our customers spend at our stores is recycled back into our local economy at a rate that's almost triple that of national chain stores. We provide rewarding jobs with good benefits and fair pay.”

What do you do with your profits?

“Pay ourselves and our staff. Pay taxes, rent, insurance. Advertise in local media such as our two public radio stations, KJZZ and KBAQ. Support local fundraising efforts by schools, churches and service organizations as well as national and international nonprofits that do good work in the world.”

                                                    A view of the Phoenix store

                                                    A view of the Phoenix store

What are the biggest issues with running this business?

“Paying a living wage, maintaining market share despite intense competition from the internet and national chains.”

How does your business stay competitive?

“Good service, great events and an amazing staff of dedicated booksellers.”

Why does Changing Hands have two locations, and why are they where they’re located?

We started in downtown Tempe. After 25 good years there, we moved to a larger location on the SW corner of McClintock & Guadalupe, in a mall that includes Trader Joe's and the Wildflower Bread Company, where we've been for the last 18 years. A couple years ago, we opened a new store in central Phoenix which has lost so many good independent bookstores over the years and several chain outlets. It's located at 3rd Avenue and Camelback at the Newton, a beautifully designed adaptive reuse of an iconic Phoenix restaurant that was closed years ago. We share the Newton with Southern Rail Restaurant and the Southwest Gardener. Our new bookstore also includes a book bar that serves coffee, beer, and wine along with yummy edibles.

 Photo courtesy of Changing Hands Bookstore

 Photo courtesy of Changing Hands Bookstore

Where do you see Changing Hands in the next year? In the next five years? In the next 20 years?

That's hard to predict. Over the past decades the store has evolved along with the community and will continue to do so. Many of our new offerings come from our younger staff who are constantly innovating. In any case, we'll stay true to our original goals.

How has Changing Hands grown over time, and why do you believe it has grown this way?

It's grown in small steps from a little 400 sq ft shop to two stores totalling over 16,000 sq ft with a staff of 55. The loyalty of our customers, the devotion and creativity of our staff, and some lucky breaks have all contributed to our success.

As you can see, Changing Hands is a one-of-a-kind bookstore. One of the biggest aspects that makes this bookstore stand out it is its level of community involvement. They are committed to being immersed in the city, and to positively impact the community. Changing Hands puts charity and public spirit above all else.

I’m a local high school student who is an avid reader, and Changing Hands is great for all people whether you love books or not. With its fun and lively atmosphere, Changing Hands is the place for you. I highly recommend you go check them out at either of their Phoenix or Tempe locations. You won't regret going in.  

Changing Hands Tempe:                    Changing Hands Phoenix:
6428 South McClintock Drive                         300 West Camelback Road
Tempe, AZ 85283                                            Phoenix, AZ 85013
480.730.0205                                                 602.274.0067                        [email protected]