Technology lets small businesses play with big guys

Sarah Nader - snader@shawmedia.com
Arlene Lynes, owner of Read Between the Lynes bookstore, rings up the purchase of customer Mike While of Woodstock on Thursday. Read Between Lynes is among small, independent businesses using technology to grow and compete in an increasingly digital world.
Sarah Nader - snader@shawmedia.com Arlene Lynes, owner of Read Between the Lynes bookstore, rings up the purchase of customer Mike While of Woodstock on Thursday. Read Between Lynes is among small, independent businesses using technology to grow and compete in an increasingly digital world.

Modern technology has transformed how the world operates, especially in commerce.

Digital technology is an integral part of the global marketplace, driving growth and competition among big-box retailers and companies. At the same time, it’s helped startups prosper and given ambitious individuals a platform to start a business from home.

Several small, independent businesses in McHenry County, meanwhile, are in the thick of commerce – a Woodstock bookstore, a place for area artisans and a small downtown theater in McHenry – all thinking digitally and outside the box to survive as independent businesses.


In 2005, Read Between the Lynes bookstore opened on Woodstock’s downtown Square.

Owner Arlene Lynes said she enjoys the independence of running the business, having no corporate guidelines to determine her choices.

“We do all of our own buying and inventory,” she said. “And with all the events, I get to make all those choices. We tailor the inventory and events to the community, and we also try to bring variety for the community.”

But she readily admits it can get tricky, considering the competition from major discount booksellers, whether it’s Barnes & Noble or Amazon online.

“It is definitely an adventure. We do need to be more creative,” Lynes said. “Amazon and online sources are a big factor. I’m not even talking about e-books; I’m talking about traditional books. It’s one of those things we’re still tip-toeing.”

Her store simply cannot compete with pricing of discount stores, she said. “For example, I buy five copies of a book, but a chain store could buy 50,000 copies. So they get a different pricing from the publishers.”

But customers can request the store to order a copy and expect it in their hands within 48 hours with no shipping fees, she said.

Meanwhile, Lynes and her staff focus on the community, creating events and ordering books that reflect local interests.

As residents of the community, she and staff pay attention to what neighbors and children are reading.

“We try to read as much as we can,” Lynes said. “And we listen to our customers, too.”

The shop also has turned to online tools, such as Twitter and Facebook, for announcements of events and programs.

And in the near future, she said the store’s website will have an electronic shopping cart feature for e-books.


Honeycraft, an arts and crafts event, bloomed in November in Woodstock.

Amy Furrow modeled the local arts event on outdoor art fairs and festivals she’s attended in Chicago. But unlike annual and seasonal arts and crafts events, Honeycraft market goes indoors, including at its own Mixin Mingle building in Woodstock.

The “pop-up” market also partners in other, larger events, as it did with Wasted Plains Rock and Roll Revival in August.

Its artists and vendors exemplify Honeycraft’s “do-it-yourself” ethic, creating handcrafted wares and jewelry.

“We try to help it be very accessible and try to curate. We do our best to hit a balance,” introducing a show with different products, Furrow said. “And, also, have people just enjoy themselves.”

Digital technology has been a major boost for the market’s growth and visibility. Among other things, artists can accept credit-card purchases using a mobile tool that scans customers’ cards.

“You know something’s coming into its own when technology is specifically developed for this scene,” Furrow said.

Honeycraft gives local emerging artists and handcrafters a viable chance to reach an audience, she said.

Most events are at Mixin Mingle, which includes wi-fi access. The participation fee includes insurance and display tables.

“It’s a good way to start,” Furrow said. “Low-cost and easy.

“It’s been amazing to see it growing and also to see these artists growing, too, slowly honing their craft as they’re involved in these shows.”

Furrow said she hopes that with technology more people will engage with Honeycraft’s local artists and product makers.

“Half the beauty of the experience of Honeycraft is you get to share with the artists, engage with them about their process, how they make their art,” she said. “You walk away with not just a piece you love, but there’s a story along with it. … Put your money where your heart is. Spend money on what you value, what’s important to you.”

McHenry Downtown Theater

Small movie theaters across the country are going through a conversion of sorts. The McHenry Downtown Theater is no exception.

As the movie industry phases out the traditional 35 mm film format to go digital, Cindy Kottke and her colleagues are preparing for the unknown.

The McHenry Downtown Theater still screens 35 mm films, but as early as next year will need to adapt to the industry’s new digital standard or end its run.

Kottke estimates new equipment and installation are between $75,000 and $100,000 per screen at the two-screen theater.

Still she’s optimistic that the film-to-digital switch will be a “good change for us in the long run” in efficiency. “Actually it’ll be easier for us, too, because [movies will] just be sent to us,” without the need for labor to put the prints together, she said. “We’ll still need managers, but in a different capacity.”

As for the cost of converting to digital, Kottke sees admission prices rising from the current $4 and $6, depending on showtimes. But she said she aims to maintain the pride in being a small theater offering “affordable family entertainment.”

The theater not only offers free refills of popcorn and drinks, but its employees “go up and down the aisle and refill for them so they don’t have to miss the movie,” she said.

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