Next Year in a Beautiful Bookstore

First of all: Happy Pesach to my Jewish friends–1.7% of the country, but maybe more like 50% of readers of this blog? I hope you had a lovely seder, or two, this past weekend. And for you 78.4% of the country (approx 45% of readers of this blog): Happy Easter! I hope that all your eggs were found and accounted for. (Insert offensive fertility joke here).

Secondly: My Passover post is also a bookstore-economics post.

About a week and a half ago, at a moderate Procrastination Level 5 (on a scale of 1-7, with 7 being the-seder-starts-in-an-hour-and-the-haggadah-isn’t-ready), I called our local independent bookstore to ask if they had this book:

Here’s how the conversation went.

TfH: Do you have the New American Haggadah?

Local Bookstore: I think we had a big run on it! Is that the one by, um,

TfH: Safran Foer?

LB: Yes!

TfH: Yes, that’s the one.

LB: Let me check…


They ordered it for me, I got it a few days before the holiday started, and happy ending. This is one of many reasons why I love independent bookstores: the person answering the phone knew what book I was talking about by title. Even though it’s a book for only 1.7% of the country, and 4.4% of the Denver metro area.

However, despite what I believed 5 or 10 years ago, I also want Barnes & Noble to survive. We need as many possible ways to read books: online, on our mobile companion devices, on books we get wet in the bathtub, on tattoos. it’s a shame our economy can’t seem to support both storefront AND website book-selling. It shouldn’t be a zero-sum game.

When I was a pre-driving teen, a mom would drop me and my friend off at the first Barnes & Noble in our area. It had two stories, and it was near an overpass. We’d stay there for several hours. There was a vast, sunlit garden of shelves, the top shelf of which even I could reach. There were calming forest green and dark-stained wood colors. There were overstuffed, brand-compatible, chairs. There was coffee and tea. The B. Dalton at the mall had none of that, and the local indies had already gone out of business by the time I was old enough to be dropped off for hours on a Saturday.

Will I pay full price more often at the local indie place, with almost all the same things but less square footage and quirkier (um, less comfy) chairs? Yes. But would I mourn for our culture, long and hard, if B&N loses to Amazon? Yes.

What about those of you who tend to the bookish? Do you long for the big box chain thing to have never interfered with your relationship to your local indie bookstore? Do you mourn the loss of Border’s? Do you buy from Amazon? Do you buy with guilt, pride, satisfaction at a good deal, or all of the above?

And those of you of the Hebraic persuasion should really check out that Haggadah. It’s beautiful. Come by the house and take a look!

(P.S. In case you didn’t know, the title of this post is a spoof of the last line of nearly all seders, “Next year in Jerusalem!”)

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6 thoughts on “Next Year in a Beautiful Bookstore

  1. Melissa says:

    Hello. A big place full of books where people can sit for hours? Maybe we should support our libraries! In the past year or so, I have seriously limited my shopping at Amazon and B&N in favor of generally shopping locally whenever possible. This was prompted by a conversation on a local listserv about neighborhood businesses going out of business because of people shopping online. In one particularly egregious example, a store owner described a shopper coming in, making use of the salesperson’s expertise, and then stating that he was going to go buy the item on Amazon to save money. (For some people, money is legitimately tight and savings are an understandable motivator. But that does not apply to the person shopping for an overpriced upscale wooden toy, for example.) I also am lucky enough to have a local bookstore that will order any title and that has a loyalty rewards program. Once I realized I could order any book from my local bookstore and take a short walk to pick it up, I was able to stop buying books from Amazon. It feels good.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Oh right. LIBRARIES! Yes, we go there frequently too. Ours is less-stocked than I’d like–if we are looking for a specific book, we usually have to order/request it. So it could certainly use more support. The system has cut down their hours, like many libraries in cash-strapped localities all over. I’m not one to fret about the so-called decline of reading: people are reading (and writing) plenty. And people want good news and good literature. But we have GOT to find better ways to support it in the transition to a totally digital culture.

    But you know, the Tattered Cover’s loyalty programs just don’t beat B&N’s. B&N members get 15-20% off coupons and more every week. But yeah, Amazon is a serious competitor. And right now, the battle is waged over e-readers and the rights to the content for them. Storefronts have little to do with it.

  3. Inder says:

    First of all, I just think it was super awesome that your local bookstore clerk responded to your inquiry, “Um, I think we had a big run on it!” That makes me think of my housemate, the lovely Rebecca, who works at a local bookstore and knows everything about everything, especially if it involves (1) food and (2) Judaism.

    I have cut back my book buying SO MUCH. I feel guilty not because I use Amazon (I do, very occasionally, for specialty craft/sewing books), but because I just don’t buy books at all anymore, and when I do, they are usually used. I do try to use my local bookstores, but they are becoming so rare that it is not easy to rely on them. But mostly, I’ve switched over to the library plus the occasional used book. There are a lot of reasons bookstores are failing, and Amazon is not the only one – another major reason is simply the economy. People are just buying less. I’m in that demographic – the one that used to buy a lot of books but now uses the library and saves their money for groceries. And in that way, I am not supporting my locally owned bookstores (or any number of other great small businesses) as much as I would like. It’s not that I’m spending elsewhere; I’m not spending at all.

    That said, the recession has taught me to appreciate the library, for which I am very grateful. I am able to vary my children’s book collection enough that I don’t die of boredom (Joe would be happy reading the same things every night, but I’m not) and I have library cards for two cities, both of which are linked into massive regional systems, so I can order almost ANYTHING. They even offer a ton of audio books (which I use) and e-books (which I don’t). It’s pretty sweet. Good use of my tax dollars, for sure.

  4. Howard Uliss says:

    It’s really a beautiful book

  5. The economics of book selling is never pretty but the good news is that the exit of the big boxes (replaced by Amazon) will open up market space for the indies again. Unfortunately economics is (by definition) zero-sum: there is only so much demand. But that also means that there is a segment that demands physical bookstores. That won’t go away. (Not short-term, anyway.) So look for more independent booksellers to pop up in the wake of the demise of the chains.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Hi Marc, thanks for this comment! It reminded me of the recent Planey Money podcast (and accompanying NYTimes magazine column) about artisanal food businesses as a re-visioning of a more classic capitalism. These backlashes that look like fanciful or nostalgic regressions but are really forward-looking businesses filling a need. Plus, I suspect that the e-book and print book consumer segments will overlap a great deal.

      There are still a great many indie bookstores around Denver. Their secret seems to be real estate–they are on lower-rent land.

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