Adventures in Reading

Bookstore: Closed
March 4, 2008, 4:45 pm
Filed under: thoughtful

On a somewhat superficial level, I can imagine fewer things more sad and pathetic that a closing bookstore and a few days ago I had my first shopping experience at a bookshop that was going out of business. It was a smaller bookshop that carried mostly best sellers and impulse purchase items, but it was still a bookstore. I kept not going thinking, “What do I need with more books?” but I finally gave in. Half of the store had been roped off and aisle after aisle of empty shelves were in a no-man’s land. What remained of the store’s stock had been crowded onto a few shelves near the front entrance of the store.

I had been informed earlier that day by a customer that nothing was left, but I must confess my pleasure that I picked up a handful of Haruki Murakami novels at 40% off (usually never on sell and rarely inexpensive enough to purchase used). The store is going out, I know, because the rent was raised so instead of books being available yet another teenager clothing store will take its place. On one hand it does make my job more secure as we have even less competition now, but it is also rather sad to watch the falling popularity of bookstores.


I hate to sound pessimistic, but with the rise of ebooks and on-line shopping, I’m afraid this could possibly be an inevitable trend. However, reading can still be maintained since now we have more avenues to read. As for me, nothing replaces real books.

Comment by Arti

It’s so sad to see an independent bookstore go out of business! I wish we had more indy bookstores around because I’m getting sick of B&N and Borders (even though I go to them, but those are the only bookstores around). Indy bookstores gives a town or city their local character, without them, everything looks the same.

Comment by T Y

Arti: I entirely agree and after seeing so many bookstores close over the past few years I think it’s more realistic than pessimistic. I think I am still within a generation that is rather embedded with the book as a codex, but it will be quite interesting to be around in the future.

TY: I always have a strange relationship with Indy bookstores in that when they do close, more often than not I really point the finger at the community. I grew up in areas that housed all of the mega-chains (B&N, Borders, B Dalton, etc.) and still allowed for used bookstores simply because the community utilized it. In my current location, this is not the story and I would not be surprised if most of the small businesses left collapsed over the next decade. But, I will shop Indy whenever I can even if it means spending a few dollars more.

Comment by bookchronicle

Independent bookstores vs. the big bad chain bookstores. Hmm?. To me, a book is the same title in a big chain or an indy bookstore. It is the merchandising and atmosphere that attracts. You can find the same analogy in the mom-pop corner market vs. the supermarket. Except in inner-cities, the supermarket has taken over. It serves its purpose, but is not as much fun.

Ok, call this hopeless romantic totally cynical, but since I work for one of the big bad mega book chains, I see basically five kinds of book shoppers (or people entering the store); 1.) fast shopper in a hurry and knows what they want. They shop online mostly, but need this one today. They are either really happy we have it on the shelf or peeved and storm out. 2.) The list maker, comes prepared and has read up on, or been recommended titles. They are polite and focused. They can wait if we do not have their requests in stock and will order titles because they stockpile and, as planned, are allways behind in their reading. They always leave happy. 3.) Clueless gift shopper, wanders anxiously, may ask for suggestions but usually doesn’t use them, leaves with a gift card relieved that the pressure is off. 4.) Parental unit shopping for school titles, knows exactly what they want, no subsitutes, needs it yesterday since the school assignment was the same, will drive to any store within 25 miles to get it. Leaves annoyed with or without the book. 5.) Ships in the night shoppers, who want to use the bathroom only, or the ones who dump kids in the children’s department unattended while shopping at Old Navy, or the ones who are the monoplizer who sets up a real estate scheme with four tables in the cafe while studying or running their business. These folks don’t buy and leave hopfully without adding any graffiti in the bathroom stalls, with their children in tow, before semester break, or when the store closes and we kick them out.

So what do you see in this scenario that could possibly compete against a community unique indy book store? Not much. No disrespect to big chain book store customers, but you shop with entirely different motives and there is room for both.

Everytime I here the title of the movie You’ve Got Mail, I start to cry in remembrance of the Little Shop Around the Corner bookstore that closed. But darn it that Meg Ryan character fought hard, lost, and then faced reality. It’s all about the bottom line. That’s what makes a consumer society tick. Ugly but true.

So to combat the indie doom and gloom, every day I work, it’s an indie bookstore wherever I am in my big bad mega bookstore. Because people make the difference.

Comment by Laurel Ann

Laurel Ann: A fan of capitalism, eh? ;) One, I don’t think anyone is accusing large bookstore chains of being “big” and “bad,” or at least I am certainly not.

As far as a book being the same in either store this is usually not true in my experience. For example, mega-chains don’t carry (or at least I have never seen) out of print books nor do they often carry reprinted editions. That is, a mega chain tends to offer the latest cover and book (which is brilliant) but completely lacks the thrill of finding that 1973, first edition print (which is just as brilliant).

For your list of customers, I would say this is largely true everything and that ranges from libraries, to college bookstores, to mega-chains, to indy stores. However, you have forgotten a prominent member of the book community: the book lover/treasure hunter. That is, the person that simply wants a good book and is fully intended on spending the afternoon moseying through the store and quite often splurging on an armful of merchandise.

I admit I am somewhat confused by your concluding arguments. Not every society even in the consumer glorifying country of the USA is bound to worship the gods of merchandise. I grew up outside of a small town that has absolutely refused big business and is home to three of the most charming used book stores I have ever been to. Not to mention, that fans of revolutionary or reusable shopping often prefer the used store.

Mega bookstores definitely get a bad rap (I know this from experience) that is too often undeserved. But to callously claim that an independent bookstores environment and atmosphere can be so easily reproduced in a mega-chain seems rather naive. Certainly mega-chains have attempted to replicate the indy store where it can, but a mega-chain will never be an indy bookstore.

Comment by bookchronicle

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