Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Closing Time

This was a postal substation until 15 years ago or so. It's
difficult to turn left out of here, but it's really a pretty
convenient location. If you're in town, go and buy
something, willya?
My local Half Price Bookstore is closing in June. This makes me extraordinarily sad.

The debate over whether or not it's appropriate for books (and movies and music and board games and magazines, etc...) to be resold in a nationwide ultimate garage sale-type setting doesn't really bother me that much. I want creators to get paid, but I think most writers want to be read no matter what. So, really, what makes me sad is that another bookstore is going away from my town.

When I was growing up there were two Town Crier bookstores (both had tobacco shops in the back), two used bookstores on the same street but four blocks apart, an independent bookseller on the developing south side of town, another two or three in the downtown, one at the University, another at a shopping center at a major intersection and I'm sure more scattered across the city that I wasn't aware of. Oh yeah and there was Quantrill's Flea Market where there were books and comics and records and all sorts of things in little niches under an ancient building downtown. It was a treasure cavern in there, to be sure.

The two used bookstores were J. Hood Bookseller and Dean's. I got the majority of my Bantam Doc Savages at J. Hood and I got a lot of old comics from Dean's, too. The one that got away there was a pristine copy of The Super-Hero Women and Marvel's Greatest Super-Hero Battles for $20 total. Yeah, I kick myself for leaving those on the shelf. Sigh.

About twenty years ago, Hastings came to town and drove one of the independent booksellers out of business by opening up in a vacant Safeway two doors down. Hatch's was a good store for me. I bought a good deal of science fiction there. It was huge and fun to shop. Sigh.

Adventure A Bookstore went away shortly after that. They were downtown and couldn't compete with the prices Hastings was charging (or not charging). The really sucky part for Adventure and Hatch's was that Hastings also sold CDs (and tapes but they went away pretty quickly if I remember) and rented movies. VHS back then, but still. Hastings was a major chain store that had a lot of stuff and people flocked there and forgot about Hatch's and Adventure.

Then about ten or twelve years ago, Borders moved into downtown and that killed all but one of the booksellers in the business district. The Raven - again just about two doors down from Borders - managed to not only compete with Borders but survive. It's still there even though Borders is gone now for over a year. They specialized in catering to locals who were loyal. I went there when I couldn't get what I wanted at Borders and when Hastings let me down with their (in)ability to order titles I wanted. To be truthful, I didn't go there often enough.

Over the last four or five years I've ordered more and more off the internet: Alibris, abebooks, halfdotcom, Amazon. You know the drill.

Why did I do this? When Borders closed we were down to the Raven, Hastings, Half Price Books, and another used place - The Dusty Bookshelf. And the very much weakened University bookstore. That's it. In a town that had less than 50,000 residents (when University was not in session) we had at least half a dozen bookstores of various stripes. That was the 70s and 80s. As the town's grown we've lost bookstores.

So when I went looking for a title like Hitchcock by Truffaut, I had to look on the internet. And that's not the only title, I promise.

But I always looked around locally, first. If I could find the book in a store in town I would (usually) buy it in town. If the price locally was significantly more than the cheapest price plus shipping I would buy off the 'net. If it was close, I'd buy locally. If it was new, I'd buy local.  More often than not.

And that's why the HPB is going away. Because I (and a lot of other people) chose to be impatient and order from the internet rather than give people in our community who needed jobs the opportunity to do them.

I feel a little guilty.

I could rail against the unfairness of a corporation that's dressed up a used bookstore failing to recognize that there's a core group of customers who go to our local HPB often, but that won't accomplish anything. It comes down to numbers. I understand numbers. Not enough locals bought often enough. That's why the store's closing. That's why my local comic shop closed. That's why my favorite record store closed. That's why everything closes.

This is why Amazon and iTunes and all the others are thriving. Because they have things we want with minimal fuss. And for an ultra-cheap price. Also, you can buy things without wearing pants.

At the cost of locals who could have been working at half a dozen bookstores and record stores and other retail outlets. Ah, dammit. Ultimately it's my fault and the fault of the rest of the city that once was a town. The 'buy local mantra' didn't make a dent and likely won't, even after this.

I spent my formative years going from one local bookstore to another after school and on Saturdays. My mom always took us to bookstores and we always spent at least half an hour there. Then we'd go to the library.

It's too bad that doesn't happen now. Because we are impatient. Because we don't know how to wait.

If you live in the same town as me, hell even if you don't, click on the link to my local HPB and like 'em on Facebook or give 'em a +1 on Google. Please. It probably won't make a lick of difference but maybe, just maybe...

No comments: