You've Got Pluck

Independent bookseller Andy Ross is risking everything he has to save the business he loves

Conventional wisdom on the business of bookselling goes something like this: independent bookstores cannot survive. No matter how knowledgeable their staff, how comfy their couches or how well they fill a niche, it is impossible to compete with the buying power of chains and the convenience and range of e-tailers.

Try telling that to Andy Ross. The 59-year-old Californian has placed a $3.7 million bet--his house, his entire life savings and hefty loans from the bank and his brother--on conventional wisdom's being wrong. The owner since 1977 of Cody's Books, a Berkeley, Calif., institution that was tear-gassed in the '60s and...

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