LJNDawson.com, Consulting to the Book Publishing Industry
Book Publishing Industry Consultant

Store notes

It's what independent booksellers have been saying for years, but you don't really know it in your bones until you do the work: a neighborhood independent bookstore is an irreplaceable part of the community in ways that a chain bookstore is not. Because you don't just go to the bookstore to get books. You go for an experience.

Yesterday, I was noticing how sad it was getting - big holes in the bookcases, customers coming in with condolences - and I ran out and bought two dozen pink roses and some chocolates. Stuck the roses in a vase and the chocolates in a dish on the corner of the cashwrap - and made sure to keep upbeat music on the stereo - and the mood changed. People were more cheerful. And they came in for stacks and stacks of books.

Beyond that, though, one finds oneself helping the neighborhood on a personal level. If a bookstore is welcoming, people come in - with their problems. A little boy came in last night with his mother. She was, it turned out, so drunk that she nearly collapsed at the register. (Later I found out that this happens quite a bit with this particular woman.) Another customer tried to help but she really was too much for him; meanwhile the little boy was...exquisite and charming, trying so hard to be a little man. We got his grown-up big brother to come and take care of them and walk them home.

The little boy loves Calvin and Hobbes, it turns out - that's why he came into the store. Now I know that he goes to my daughter's school, and I can ask the teachers to keep a special eye on him, let the school librarian know of his passion for Calvin and Hobbes...and if the store were continuing past this week, I'd be able to set aside books specifically for him.

Chain bookstores are wonderful in their own way - you can be pretty much assured you'll get what you went in for, and browsing among all those titles is awesome. But an independent bookshop (particularly one that sells used books, strange out-of-print arcana) has a magic of its own - maybe it's not essential to a neighborhood, any more than music or film or good design is essential to life...but, like music and film and good design, I certainly wouldn't want to live without that neighborhood magic.

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