On a recent afternoon on Front Street in Dumbo, a patron approached Jared White, the owner of Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop, and asked for recommendations of Spanish-language and Scandinavian poets. He pointed to “Poems,” by the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Milán, and “Remainland,” by the Swedish poet Aase Berg. White and his wife, Farrah Field, opened the storefront two years ago, after several years of breaking even at the Brooklyn Flea, selling books on the ground floor of the Williamsburg Savings Bank building alongside soap and ceramics on artisans row.
Berl’s is among a crop of poetry stores in U.S. cities with robust literary communities, including Boulder, Cambridge, Milwaukee, and Seattle. Portland may soon join the list. Abroad, Lunar Poetry opened in London in August. Their presence would seem, at first glance, to defy the ongoing concerns among brick-and-mortar retailers about competition from digital sellers; e-commerce now accounts for about seven per cent of all retail sales, up from under three per cent in 2006, and Amazon looms over bookstores, in particular. But the theory now goes that stores that do one thing well or create an experience—niche retail, as it’s sometimes called—can thrive.