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Why build a bookstore?

September 9, 2019

 

 

          Why build a bookstore? It’s a question, and if you’d consider reading a few of my words, I’ll try an answer.  Reth Butler a character of Margret Mitchell once said as he escaped Atlanta with Miss Scarlet. “I've always had a weakness for lost causes, once they're really lost.” https://getyarn.io/yarn-clip/df875373-1926-4e30-bd9f-10f13ee550ed  Well, bookstores also appear at times to be a lost cause, with stores closing and the tradition of handing off volumes of knowledge and the stories of fantasy and inner truth becoming a thing of the past. Oh, the commerce of books is not completely gone, you can order books online from somewhere that’s not here or have them downloaded to an electronic book or listening device. Neighborhood bookstores, really providers of in-depth knowledge provided opportunity through reading, browsing, and study, for someone to define themselves and their own future. To make matters worse, the bookmen of yesterday, whose knowledge of authors and their volumes are also quickly disappearing into retirement and beyond.  There was a time when every community had a motion picture theatre, a service station, a hardware store, a grocer, and as often as not some old goat (curmudgeon) who sold books to those who wanted more for themselves.

 

          In the nineteen seventies I had a small bookshop for a year, it was some 200 sq. ft. in an off the beaten path mini mall in Silver Spring. I had been bitten by the bug that made holding a book precious, not just for the knowledge or story it held. It was of value because within the boards were pages that held no class or race distinction it was a story or information that upon reading would become part of me. The more I read the better I could read and the more I read my language and thoughts changed. I can’t honestly say my beliefs improved or changed because of reading, but I did become more knowledgeable about what I read and that was enough. The store basically opened from the books in my bedroom and closed after a year, as I became more responsible for work, bills, and a growing need to assist my father. I would later sell books by catalog mostly to overseas GI’s, a task today served by the ever-expanding internet. I was distracted from the book business by the need of a stable income and expanding responsibilities at regular jobs. Enough about my past, and the store that didn’t make a buck, then again it was my first store, it was a fun little shop where I could meet people and talk about books.

 

            Like grocers, hardware, shoe stores, computer shops, office supply stores, and movie theatres, bookstores were at first replaced by mega-stores. These mega stores killed the downtown's of many small towns and even emptied/bankrupted a mall or two. In many of these cases like movie theatres, gas stations, car dealers, and perhaps bookstores the producers of the product were able cut out the independent retailer and integrate where the mega-corporation can now control the retailer and the manufacturing of the product. So if you want a notebook or a pencil in the mega office supply store only the house brand is available and since only one brand is available the price goes up. The law of supply and demand based on the ideas of sacristy allows for the price to go up. The great equalizer in all of this is the internet, where anyone can put out their shingle and sell to anyone across the nation or world for that matter, any product. So many used bookstore dealers found that they didn’t need to spend the money on high priced retail rent, or print a catalog, when they can close their shop and sell from their basement or from a small warehouse. However, for a different point of view, in the 1940’s TV was supposed to kill the movie theatre and yet we still have movie theatres, because people like going out. I believe the same is true for bookstores, where the internet makes books and movies for that matter available online, I believe people still like to browse and discover materials that they often weren’t even looking for. When the internet is all that is available then only what the internet retailer / bookseller suggests will be available. (Perhaps this is a new form of censorship or Orwellian group think.) My ten thousand titles may never rival the million titles on the internet, but at least here in my shop you can see the title and consider its contents before you ever part with your hard-earned dollars.

 

            Why a bookstore? The answer varies with who I speak too and what they know of this man who ought to know better than to open a business in an industry that seemingly is dying. There are personal reasons for opening the store; my son needed a job, the wife said I couldn’t open a store, I was tired of regulating my books to an unseen basement, and any of these excuses or needs as they are may be true and justifiable. However, the real reason answer as to why to build a bookstore is the following: Books scream to be shared and read, they need to pass from hand to hand, books inform us and allow independent thought, they grant us passage to the past and futures unknown. The truth is as a teacher, writer, and poor businessman, this store is my opportunity to make friends by being a friend of kindred spirits, readers and bibliophiles alike. Why build a bookstore because, I’m a sucker for lost causes, and I believe bookstores deserve a fighting chance.    

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