Sunday, June 2, 2013

Where have all the bookstores gone?

Once upon a time, brick and mortar book stores dotted the city and suburban scapes around my home town. Now there are none.  And that makes my heart and mind ache. Oh, a very small Walden’s satellite
store is in a mall close to my home, or I could drive 12 miles to a huge Barnes and Noble which is attached to a massive mall in a major shopping mecca, but I’m not inspired by the lack of browsing ambiance and novel offerings in the first, nor do I want to deal with the traffic and human congestion that accompanies the latter.

They are both in malls which definitely do not produce the serene escape from the fast-lane life surrounding me day after day. Calgon bath soaps might offer to “Take me away,” but I don’t want a soak in the tub. I crave a stand-alone bookaholic’s dream of never-ending shelves overflowing with tomes from every genre leading to an attached coffee shop.

Now there are none, though, and I miss them.

My husband and I used to jump in the car after dinner at least once a week and jaunt off to our near-by bookstores so we could quench our caffeine thirst while we nourished our minds. Even after Amazon lured me in with its lower prices and free shipping, I loved perusing the shelves of our brick and mortar venders to check out new authors and to read a few pages from the beginning and middle of a novel to see if its voice could talk me into buying it. If it succeeded, I’d write down the title and author and then order it from Amazon where I could usually purchase two books for the price of one from the bookstore.

And then…then… I heard the siren call of the Kindle, and even more recently, the Kindle Fire Tablet.  On these devices,  books are even less expensive than Amazon’s hard copy prices, they save enormous space in my purse or when I’m packing for a trip, and they are easier for me to hold in my senior citizen hands than a 400-page hardcover is. My husband has stayed true to bound books as has our daughter (although her first daughter has a Kindle Fire) and our son varies between reading device and bound books.  When I switched to readers, like millions of other book lovers, I added another chip in the bricks of our local bookstores.

Now there are none, though, and I miss them.

I want to slouch in one of their proverbial leather chairs, open my coffee and skim through the chimney-sized stack of books towering by my side.  I wanted to lose myself for a few hours listening to the voices and worlds created by authors who have a way with words. I wanted the papery aroma of thousands of books to tickle my sense of smell.

Now there are none, though, and I miss them.

My research about their demises revealed that it wasn’t just Reading Device buyers, like me, who caused the downfall of these enterprises. The little that I understood from various financial page articles, showed me that a few not so business savvy decisions by some of the  bookstore executives’ played a major role, too.

Still, couldn’t they take what they learned about best business practices and try again? My home county offers 500+ dining experiences,  about 55 movie theaters,  13 live music venues, and 80+ historical, art, nature and outdoors and family-friendly attractions. Twenty-eight book stores exist. Two are medium-sized independent store with decent selections, another duet speaks to the new/used buyer and the majority of them are language, ethnicity, politics, business , or religion specific, or are aimed at another specialty market.

Yes, two Barnes and Nobles do exist, but like I said before, the closest  is 12 miles away and attached to a mall. And as I said before, this is not appealing for a serene browsing excursion. I’ve tried it, fought for a place to sit down, and don’t want to do it again. I guess I’ll just spend my days (and late nights) surfing Amazon’s shelves. Convenient? Yes.  Appealing to the senses? Not so much.

When my children were young, I was sad that they would never enjoy a drive-in movie experience. Now, I’m even more bereft that my granddaughters, both avid readers, will never experience a rainy afternoon Children Make Terrible Pets (Peter Brown) or the latest revised Nancy Drew mystery nestled in a comfy chair while rain drops pelt the store’s windows.
browsing through a bookstore. Oh, they can search the scant shelves at stores like Target and department-store type of grocery retailers for a good read, but that just isn’t the same as munching on a cookie while reading

Stephen King wrote in The Waste Lands, “Jake went in, aware that he had, for the first time in three weeks, opened a door without hoping madly to find another world on the other side. A bell jingled overhead. The mild, spicy smell of old books hit him, and the smell was somehow like coming home.”

I remember those feelings well. I miss them. Don’t you? Where have all of the bookstores gone?  Can we have them back, please?

Until next week,

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