August 22, 2012
Reminiscing About Bookstores
I was posting some job frustrations on Facebook yesterday and my uncle told me that I needed to find a job that I loved, that I was passionate about. It got me thinking - - if I could do anything, without regard to money, education, the economy, etc., what would it be? Easy. I would want my own bookstore, much like Meg Ryan's character in You've Got Mail but without the kids-only focus. Of course the economy being what it is and the dearth of independently owned bookshops due to super stores like Barnes & Noble and the online presence of Amazon, make that dream a very distant and seemingly impossible one. Sadness.
But . . . I remember when there was a Little Professor operating in my home town. It was run by a husband and wife team and the store was probably no bigger than your average Starbucks today - - if that. They did have shelves in the front of the store, by the door, that stocked The New York Times' bestsellers - - paperback and hardcover. They did carry local newspapers. And they did have various other books. But you wouldn't find a paperback version of every Stephen King novel in print, nor V. C. Andrews (one of my very favorite authors as a teenager). Their shelves wouldn't support it (the shelves were only 2 books deep), nor would their stockroom. There weren't "sections" to the store; there was a shelf, maybe two for a specific genre. General fiction had the largest square footage, as I remember. Childrens' books had maybe a shelf. Nonfiction probably had half a shelf.
We also had a B. Dalton at our local mall. B. Dalton was the "big" bookstore, compared to Little Professor. If Little Professor didn't have what you were looking for, you went to B. Dalton. If B. Dalton didn't have it, you ordered it. And waited for a good week. But honestly, that anticipation over the book was a fabulous kind of torture.
I remember going to the mall, with my babysitting money (or money from a part-time job, once I was over 15) safely tucked into my bag and walking into the Xanadu-like arena of B. Dalton, the smell of newly printed books filling my nostrils. No coffee, no pastries then. The excitement of either being on a mission to find a particular book or browsing the find a new favorite. The thrill of seeing the display for the newest V. C. Andrews book - - most especially, the Flowers in the Attic series. I remember sitting cross-legged on the floor, flipping through various paperbacks, reading the back cover and the first couple of pages. The crispness of the book spine. The sleek firmness of the cover. The wonderful smell of newly printed pages.
Eventually a Brentano's was added to our mall, with the mall addition and renovation. It would ultimately help to put Little Professor out of business but the mall was the place to go with two options for book shopping.
I loved it. Remembering it all now, I am filled with a childlike wonder, a glee, and a sadness akin to homesickness. There is still a Barnes & Noble in my hometown, right by the mall - - the same one I worked at. But walking in the door and being overwhelmed by books, book displays, game displays, signs for Starbucks . . . well, it's just not the same. You won't find people sitting on the floor to eagerly flip through a book because there are comfy chairs throughout the store. Most people don't seem to browse any longer. They look books up online and walk in to make a particular purchase. In most cases, you don't know the employees by name because there are so many and many don't stay. Not to mention that so many people purchase items online that repeat customers aren't what they used to be.
Again, I'm not knocking Barnes & Noble, nor any other book chain. But I find it sad that smaller bookshops can't seem to survive any longer. Are we such an impatient society that we need to have every possible book at the ready for any possible situation? When did "fully stocked" become more important than warm and cozy?