I haven’t seen anything about this on the net. Not even a Search turns anything up. Oh, sure – you can find articles about the decline of used bookstores, and specialty bookstores 9like feminist ones), and lots on the decline of independent bookstores. But I’m talking about all bookstores, including the “big box” stores like Barnes and Noble.
When I was a kid, even though I lived in a suburb of New York City, there were no bookstores nearby. I bought my books at department stores, mostly, where I scoured the few wire or wooden racks for science fiction or history or whatever. There were a few books at the downtown newsstand (I still have and use the very large and comprehensive Roget’s Thesaurus I bought at my local news outlet). There were even a few bookracks at the auto parts store and the hardware store (I bought my copies of Asimov’s Foundation series at the hardware store).
If I wanted a real bookstore I had to go to the nearest city with a college, or close by there. Even the local college had a pretty poor excuse for a bookstore. Even the new indoor enclosed malls didn’t have bookstores – I bought books at the department stores in the malls. The only places I saw big, comprehensive bookstores were in major cities.
Then in the early 1970s the bookstore chains started to proliferate near me. I encountered my first WaldenBooks at the largest nearby enclosed mall, and it blew me away. Then one opened up in the new mall they built near my home. The trend continued throughout the 70s and eighties and into the nineties. The big mall where I first encountered Waldenbooks eventually boasted four bookstores. Even the small mall near my home boasted two unrelated bookstores.
Of course, in that time I’d moved away to college and grad school, living in several cities, which had even more bookstores (and lots of used bookstores). especially Boston, with all its colleges and literate population. It was heaven.
In the nineties the Used bookstores started closing. Where there were once several in Harvard Square, there is now only one. One of the ones that disappeared was enormous – it was gone overnight. The used bookstores along Newbury Street evaporated. the used bookstores in towns like Salem and Portsmouth and Newburyport, once so numerous, are all gone. The only used bookstore I know of in Boston is the ancient Brattle Books, near the Common.
I’m not stupid – I saw the decline happening at the same time as the rise of the Internet, with its sites like Alibris, and the used book sales on Amazon. The internet gave used book sellers a way to precisely reach their best customers and eliminate the overhead of a physical store. I’m not surprised it killed used bookstores. I’m also not surprised that it cut into new bookstores, especially indy stores.
But the decline I see now is precipitous and huge. Bookstores in malls around here and cities I frequent are practically gone. The only indoor malls I know of in the Boston area with new bookstores are Cambridgeside Galleria and the Prudential Center. The malls that formerly had bookstores no longer do inside. A few have big Barnes and Nobles stores or Borders stores outside, but some have nothing. I’ve noticed a new trend of Used Bookstores inside malls, often in the very shops that originally housed new bookstores. These stores get their books free as donations, give proceeds to charity, and I suspect don’t pay very well. I know of four of them.
I’ve just seen in the paper that another independent bookstore near me is closing, and that Waldenbooks announced last month that it will be closing all remaining Waldenbooks in Massachusetts shortly. This includes the only other new bookstore in the Boston area I know of in a mall – the Waldenbooks in Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers, which is why I didn’t list it above.
Newly revamped malls, like the upscale Natick Collection didn’t even have bookstores with the revamping. (You know it’s intended to be tony if it’s a “Collection” rather than a “mall”) (Incidentally, this means that there will be no WaldenBooks near Walden Pond – the closest one, in Lexington, closed last year. Of bookstores near that pond, there is one run by the Park Service, and Concord itself still has one indy bookseller and one used bookstore).
this is al pretty grim. Southbridge, Mass. has no new bookstores of its own. aside from the one at the historic village, the nearest was a Barnes and Noble a 45 minute drive away. That closed over five years ago, leaving only a Waldenbooks at the mall further down the road. Now that’s going. The only new bookstore nearby is a tiny independent that’s still a drive.
around 1990 the UK chain Waterstone’s moved into Boston in a big way, opening a huge store in the old Essex Street Theater at the corner of Essex and Newbury that instantly outclassed anything in town, as well as satellite stores at Burlington (which already had two others bookstores) and Quincy Marketplace (which had one other). Sadly, they closed down after only a decade. Now there are no bookstores at either the Burlington Mall or Quincy Marketplace.
Okay – this is pretty grim. there’s a Barnes and Noble near me, and this used bookshop that was formerly a Waldenbooks. If I drive to Salem there’s an independent bookstore and a bulk bookstore that has been “going out of business” for the past decade (but always seems to have the latest books), but that’s it. Formerly there had been scads of new and of used bookshops in that same radius.
I can’t believe that all the people buying those books are now getting them through the internet. It’s barely possible, but I’d be interested if anyone could provide a link to any stories on that. I suspect that the truth is a decline in reading. I notice fewer of my acquaintances have bookcases in their homes. And that’s pretty depressing, for lots of reasons.