Excessive use of hyphens aside, I am trying to be sympathetic to those who have expressed concern over the "death of the independent book store." Admittedly, however, I'm having trouble with that.
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For authors and avid readers, there's something even more magical about a bookstore. It gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling walking into a book shop and catching the aroma of billions of pages, that slight hint of ink, blended with the fragrance of ideas swirling in the air.
But at the end of the day, it's a retail store. It is bricks, and mortar, and shelves and employees. It is commerce. And in that respect, it is neither unique nor magical.
My natural conclusion is that these stores close due to loss of market share from larger, "corporate" bookstores, like Barnes & Noble and Borders. Using that as the basis for the following, some of the reasons I've heard why people lament the closure of independent bookstores are:
Independent bookstore employees are better qualified & know more about books - It's true that "big box" stores will employ just about anybody with a pulse. But it's ignorant to assume every employee at an indie store is inherently knowledgeable and every employee at a corporate store is clueless. My local B&N has been around for at least 15 years, and the employees are educated and passionate about their various departments.
The indie bookstore is an American icon - I roll my eyes to this one. Considering that moveable type is still a relatively "new" invention in the stream of human history, and that literacy amongst "ye common folk" runs almost parallel to its existence, book stores are not ancient and hallowed ground. Libraries are. As I mentioned earlier, I understand forming an emotional attachment to a retail location, but the fact remains that many of America's most beloved independent bookstores were opened in the 20th century. There are older car dealerships out there.
If [insert indie store here] closes, where will people get books/authors promote? - Again, another eye roll. It's not as if books turn into a scarce relic the moment an indie bookstore closes. There's likely another option available to the community, whether it be a library or corporate bookstore. There's also online sites aplenty. Corporate bookstores still host author events and signings. They have story time in the KidLit area. You can sit and read there for hours undisturbed, without actually buying anything.
To be clear, I'm not saying I don't support local businesses--especially bookstores--because I do. However, I make my decision on where to shop based upon distance, price, service, and availability. For example, there's a Books-a-Million less than 3 miles from my home, but I happily travel 14 miles to B&N because the Books-a-Million has mediocre service, high prices and lackluster selection (not to mention a depressing Children's section). The Davis-Kidd that's closing next month is twice the distance as B&N--not exactly "the shop around the corner." Alternatively, if I need a book and I'm not in a hurry, I usually turn to Amazon.com or BN.com.
The bottom line here is that, as a writer and book-lover, I am genuinely trying to understand more about why people are so grieved by the closing of a local independent bookstore. What are your thoughts? Do you bemoan the closing of indie bookstores? Do you not care? Do you prefer B&N or Borders, and why?
Sound off in the Comments section and give me the benefit of your perspective. Give me a compelling reason not to feel so indifferent, and I promise to listen with an open mind.