I Feel Like a Ghoul, Or: A Eulogy for the Bookstore

Yesterday, I got the news: our local bookstore is closing.

It was the only one worth mentioning in my town. (The other sold mainly used Harlequin Romance novels and lottery tickets.) Unfortunately, it appears this town can’t support a store which sells something as exotic and unpopular as books. Do I sound bitter? I am.

It opened only a few months ago, to my jubulation. At least once a week, sometimes twice, I’d stop by and make a purchase, or pick up the books I had ordered. Yeah, I paid more than I would have through Amazon.com, but I thought it worth it to have an actual bookstore.

Visiting the store was a pleasant aesthetic experience. The store was cool and dark when I stepped in off the street. It smelled devine-- the mixed scents of books and Old Building. Light jazz or classical music played over the sound system. Fat, soft chairs (built by the owner himself) lined the walls, seperated by end-tables with lamps.

The proprieter knew me on sight, and always greeted me as if I were an old friend. He would usually have books waiting for me behind the counter, those I had ordered, and those he thought I might like.

The warning signs were there. I just ignored them. Rarely did I meet another customer in the shop. The book club that they started quietly folded from lack of participants. Their hours shortened, and planned expansion never happened.

Yesterday, I stopped in as usual to pick up my latest order. “Hey, Al,” I said to the owner. “How’s it goin’?”

“Pffft!” said Al, looking away. His wife, shelving books, looked over at me and said, “Not good. Not good at all.”

“Why? What’s wrong?” I asked, knowing and dreading the reply.

“We’re closing,” Al said. “Everything’s 75% off. If you want anything, you might as well get it now.”

I didn’t know what to say. Finally, I asked when. Becky replied that Al was looking for a job, so they’d stay open for a couple of more weeks, or until he found something. Al was staring bitterly down at the counter. “If there’s anything you want,” he repeated. “Get it now. It’s just going to end up stored in my shed if I can’t get rid of it. Some I can send back. Some of it . . .” He trailed off, and stared out the window.

Now thinking it over, I feel awful. At Al’s urging, I went up and down the rows of shelves, plucking out those books which had been on my “maybe” list. I left the shop with heavy heart, and large shopping bags.

I feel like a vulture, picking over the corpse. I try to justify it to myself, saying that I saved Al the burden of their disposal, and if I hadn’t bought them, someone else would have. When I left, they thanked me for my patronage. “If we’d had 100 like you, we’d be doing fine,” Becky said as she gave me my reciept. Even as they expressed their appreciation, I still felt like I was taking advantage of their situation by buying the books so cheaply. I felt like telling them to charge me full price, but rejected it, fearing they would take it as pity.

For years now, I’d had a dream of doing exactly what Al and Becky did: open a wonderful bookstore. I’d even considered signing on as an investor. In a way, I feel as if the failure of their dream is mine, too. I also feel angry at the non-reading cretins which populate my town. (Perhaps Al and Becky should have done the same as the Springfield Library, and put up a sign saying, “We have books about TV.”)

Sorry about the long, boring post. I’ve just been very unhappy about the situation, and needed to get it off my chest. Not that it helps much.

Darn, that sucks. How big is the city? Was it new or used books?

Sorry about the loss for your community. It’s happening here too. These are bleak times.

Our fair city has about 35,000 citizens. It currently supports six video rental stores, with a seventh opening soon, but cannot provide enough custom to keep one bookstore afloat.

They sold new books, and had built up to quite a nice selection, and I loved the way they categorized their books. (It was a bit non-traditional, but it made everything easy to find.) They had planned to expand the store, devoting an entire floor to non-fiction, but that’ll never happen now.

And yes, it does suck. It sucks with the force of a hundred black holes. It sucks like an Electrolux with a jet engine. It sucks more than J-Lo’s movie.

When I first moved to western NY, there was a local bookstore chain called Village Green. They only had seven stores; three in the Buffalo area, three around Rochester, and one in Canandaigua. But they were doing well. While I was there they opened a new store and expanded several of their existing stores.

Then the chains hit town. I’ll admit I like the big chains like Borders, Barnes & Noble, and even MediaPlay. But I hate what they do to the local competition. The Village Green slowly shut down; closing their stores one by one. In a way, I would have prefered having them all go out of business in a single day. Seeing it stretch out over a year was like watching someone die of cancer.

Of course, the Village Green wasn’t the only victim. Nowadays, there isn’t a single new bookstore in Buffalo or Rochester that isn’t part of a chain.

Take some comfort in the fact that you at least have the chains nearby. When my bookstore is gone, I’ll have to start ordering from Amazon again, or drive 65 miles to the nearest Barnes and Noble.

I wish I had an Evil Corporate Entity to blame for the bookstore’s demise, but it folded sans competition. (Except, of course, the Harlequin Romance/lottery ticket store and the local Christian bookstore that I forgot to mention previously. It specializes in the Left Behind series, about twenty different sizes and colors of King James’ Version, and Thomas Kincaid greeting cards.)

Instead, I must lay the blame at the feet of my fellow townsfolk. It’s a little depressing.

Lissa:

One thing you can do:

Take a look around your town for the other small businesses trying to survive. Shop at those places. Support them. Pay a few cents extra for the privilege of having small independent stores. Recommend the small stores to your friends and avoid the monster stores like the plague that they are. The holiday shopping season is make-or-break for many of the independents. Now is the time to help.