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Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Difference Between a Bookseller and a Corp. that Sells Books

The invasion of the new, fast-paced, glittering, technological world has presented circumstances forcing many of the large, colder and impersonal big-box bookstores out of business...Oddly enough, it was the beginning of this tech invasion that brought the big chains into existence in the first place. Maybe you can, afterall, get too much of a thing.

And now the singularly unique, personalized, familiar and intimate ambiance of the independent bookstores is beckoning us back...offering book-lovers, authors, scholars and readers a warmer refuge to return to.

Even though some indies did fail in the initial technology rush, many survived...and it looks like they will survive the big chains, too...I never thought they wouldn't.

The reason the indies will survive is because they do, indeed, have soul.

Edward McClelland has an interesting piece for Salon.com RE the bankruptcy of big-box Borders bookstore that further illustrates my point:

How Borders lost its soul

The store went from a true alternative to a big-box bore. Now, it's the independent shops who come out the winners

When I was a teenager, there were two off-campus bookstores that shaped my reading life. The first was Jocundry's, in East Lansing, Mich., which I discovered when I was in high school. I could always go there for a copy of Michael Moore's alternative newspaper, the Michigan Voice, or a book by George Bernard Shaw or Friedrich Nietzsche, two authors I liked to be seen reading. A bearded Michigan State University historian was always sitting inside the front door of Jocundry's with his dog, reading The New York Times.

The second was Borders, the chain bookseller that declared bankruptcy on Wednesday. As a freshman at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, I was awed by the sight of the original Borders, on State Street. Never in my 18 years had I seen two stories of books. I spent nearly as much time reading at Borders as I spent reading in class while my professors lectured. There was nothing to do at Borders but read. In the mid-1980s, a coffee shop was still a diner that served pancakes until 11 a.m.

A decade later, as Borders spread nationwide, I was as excited as a Starbucks drinker from Seattle. In those years, on the cusp of the World Wide Web, I was living in a small industrial city in Central Illinois. Its only literary outlets were a newsstand, whose owner constantly reminded me he wasn't running a library, and a Waldenbooks at the Hickory Point Mall. When I wanted a book of short stories by V.S. Pritchett, I ordered it through a clerk, and waited two weeks. But with Borders invading shopping malls in Erie and Wichita and Normal, everyone in America could have the same instant access to V.S. Pritchett that I'd enjoyed in Ann Arbor.

Unfortunately, the ascendancy of the mega-bookstores ended up destroying Jocundry's, and its dog-friendly atmosphere. Barnes & Noble took over an empty supermarket a few miles from Michigan State's campus. Jocundry's moved into a bigger space to compete with B&N's inventory. The expense ruined them. Jocundry's closed in 2001. Soon after, Barnes & Noble moved into downtown East Lansing, claiming its independent rival's turf.

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