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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Closing the Book (Aug. 14, 2011)

Inching toward noon on Sunday. I didn’t plan to be parked at the computer, about to mourn the loss of the bookstore. But here I am. I’m sure I’m not the first person to put fingers to keyboard on this subject, but it hit home for me today so here I am.

I was out and decided to swing by a bookstore I hadn’t been inside in at least a year. I needed bribery material for a child who whose hair soon will be detangled and cut, and who won’t be happy about it.

After parking, I marched inside, bee lined for the front desk and asked a clerk why there was a huge sign out front. Why were they going out of business? Was it because of low-priced online competition that rhymes with “glamazon?” She said there were a lot of theories about why.

As I wandered off to find bribery material, I felt sad. True, I hadn’t been in this store in ages. Although I love reading, I frequent libraries more often than book stores. And I’m among the masses that flock to the discounted online sites, so I can hardly point fingers and accuse others of not going to book stores. I get that the online stores can discount more than the brick-and-mortar stores because they don’t have the same rent, utilities, and personnel costs. (I really get this, because I worked at a book store years ago. Here was how we answered the phone, each and every time: “Thank you for calling Crown Book Stores, where we have the lowest book store prices guaranteed. This is Sarah. How may I help you?” (Gasping, I’d pause to replenish my lungs with air.) We did have low prices because the company paid minimum wage, and considered thirty-six hours per week part-time, therefore skirting paying health coverage! So I really do get that running a book-selling business costs money!) But I’m still sad to see this store close.

Since I was a child, I’ve loved to read. When I babysat a lot as a 12-to-15-year-old, I spent a lot of my earnings at the local book store. I have great memories of these special places. If you love to read, going to book stores and libraries is like kids’ being dropped into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Amazing! There are dazzling sights and colors everywhere you look. There’s something you want to get your hands on at every turn. It’s a wonderland, a feast for the eyes and the mind. You can learn. You can be entertained. You can reload on ideas for creative projects. It’s relaxing and stimulating all at the same time.

At the check-out counter I paid for my three books (one is the earliest Christmas present I’ve ever bought, and needs to be hidden for the next four months. Of course, there’s always the danger that I will have hidden it from myself, too, or that come December, I will have forgotten it entirely. Note to self: write reminder and location onto the calendar in hieroglyphics only I can decipher.)

The clerk and I commiserated about the closing, and she said she thinks that part of the problem is that people come in and treat it like a library, sitting in cozy chairs and reading for hours, and not buying. I’ve done that, too, so I won’t finger-point. But I’m still sad. The world changes, I know. But it can be hard to watch it happen. At best, it’s sometimes a mixed bag. And when it involves something that is meaningful to you, it’s extra hard. I hope the little bookstores are able to make it. I guess I need to be part of the movement of keeping it local, buying from stores I want to see survive.

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