Friday, February 11, 2011

Turn the page

The writing has been on the wall for awhile, but now it appears that the warning is about to be fulfilled. Borders is expected to file for bankruptcy. A quick scan for news about Barnes and Noble shows that opinions seem to be more favorable for them, although I swear I've read that their long-term future has been held in question. Regardless, some are tolling the bell for the bookstore. It's likely to become louder if Borders shuts down a lot of stores or closes altogether.

One of my favorite stores to go to as a kid was a local bookstore in a strip mall. The selection was nothing compared to what you'll find at Borders and Barnes and Noble, but I don't recall those superstores being around then. (Mall tenants B. Dalton and Waldenbooks would have been the competition then, I suppose.) If we went to Kmart or the single screen second-run movie theater or visited the library across the street, chances were good that we'd stop in at Newton's Book Store, especially if I was with my mom.

Newton's Book Store could handle the mystical process of the special order and find books that I'd never seen and might not have known even existed. At some point I got such hard-to-find books as The Baseball Address List, an autograph collector's handy guide with the names and addresses of every living person who'd played in Major League Baseball, and Late Night with David Letterman: The Book, which I wish I had but which I think got ruined in storage at my parents'.

As far as I can tell, Newton's is no longer in business. (It's listed among the retailers in my school district, but that document says it was last updated in May 1998.) I'm kind of surprised it made it that long since the superstore boom of the '90s surely wiped out a lot of small, independent stores.

Of course the small shop never stood a chance. I don't recall the first time I went to one of the big stores--it was probably when I was in college--but the selection was staggering. (I might have first visited Little Professor Book Center, an independent chain that left Columbus some time ago but which may still be around in some places if this dated website and searches are to be believed.) Here were stores that were destinations and that provided immediate access to books that one might have to wait for a week or more if going elsewhere. I remember spending plenty of time browsing the aisles and exploring what might be there to find.

Now these superstores are endangered species. Coupons or sales that chop the prices down significantly have become more plentiful, which is pretty much the only reason I will buy from these places anymore. In the age of and quick shipping, there's virtually no reason to buy something at Borders or B&N with their full retail prices. (Come on, who's going to buy a new CD for $19, which is at least $5 more than most places.)

Perfect example: this week I bought a $10 Groupon for $20 off at B&N and intended to use it locally to support one of the stores in my area. I wanted to get the Blu-ray of The Double Life of Veronique. I could order it through the company's website for home delivery for $30 or place an online order for in-store pick-up for the full $40 price. Hmm, let me think about that one. Of course I bought it through the website and am having it shipped to me.

Yet even though the potential disappearance of these mega booksellers wouldn't really affect my purchasing habits, I'll miss them if or when they're gone. Maybe it's nostalgia for places that meant something to me when I was younger. Maybe it's a fear that tangible things are going to be harder to come by in the future. Maybe it's sentimentality. Sure, I have a Kindle and enjoy using it--I'm part of the problem!--but I still like to roam the stacks too.

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At 9:16 AM, Anonymous LittleWit said...

Little Professor still exists in Athens. I really really missed it when it left Columbus. That was always one of my favorite bookstores. Now I shop almost exclusively at Book Loft down in German Village. Unless they don't have what I need then I pop over to B&N. With BookLoft's coupons (and I am t-shirt club member) and awesome hours it just seems silly to go anywhere else. :)


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