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.