Yes, I’ll admit it. I’m a book nook schnook. I can definitely relate with The Shop Around the Corner, Meg Ryan’s little bookstore in “You’ve Got Mail.” There’s a coziness, a warmth that the large chains can’t give you. Don’t get me wrong. Stores like Barnes & Noble are still very nice; especially if you like fresh muffins with chocolate icing and cappuccino with your browsing, which I get often when I’m perusing the six, eight, I mean one – yes of course, just the ONE book that I’ve finally decided on.
The advent of Kindle and Amazon sounded the death knell for hundreds of small bookstores, and many large, nationally known chains. B. Dalton, Borders, Brentano’s, and Crown Books have all gone the way of the brontosaurus.
Still, there’s a place for the little neighborhood bookstores that have been able to stay open in these trying literary times, thanks to legions of Book Nook Schnooks, just like me, across America. Although not nearly as prolific as they once were, many of these smaller shops are alive and well, and even the big publishers are now paying more attention to them, helping them with pricing and marketing. Why? Here are a few reasons:
- It’s part of the local community. It’s a meeting place for friends and neighborhood book clubs. It’s like a “Cheers” bar for book lovers. There is a growing “buy locally” movement that benefits the independent bookseller. For every $100 spent in a national chain bookstore, only $43 of it stays in the local community. Small bookstores? More than $73 stays in the neighborhood. There is also a sensory aspect to the small bookstores. When I’m in a Barnes & Noble, while resplendent and heavenly, it nonetheless smells of credit cards, name tags, industrial cleaner, and the aforementioned cappuccino (which really, they’re worth the trip if you ask me). In a small, locally owned bookshop, I smell Emily Brönte, Shakespeare, L.Frank Baum, Jack London, and Mary Shelley mixed with essence of earnestness. And not in a bad way.
- Who wouldn’t love the small bookshop experience? Visiting one is like putting on a warm sweater on a chilly day, a cup of tea, a shelter from the storm. One never knows what will be found when turning the corner in an aisle and browsing. That’s a key word: It’s a word that is overused, yet underrated. Visiting a small store can be like visiting a vintage clothing store. “Wow! I didn’t know I needed that, but I want it.” A pleasant surprise — in book form — lurks around every corner, just waiting to be found. Children sit on the floor, poring through picture books. Kindly Ms. Kelly is reading stories to a group of seniors.
- The staff knows what they’re doing. They are keenly familiar with the store’s offerings. They don’t need a computer to see what’s in stock. But they know how to use one to order any book they may not have but a customer wants, and are probably just as excited as you are when it’s finally located. They love books more than you do, if that’s even possible. “Hey, if you liked X, you’re going to love Y!” Conversely, they’ll let you know if something you’re looking for isn’t your cup of tea. “No, actually, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ isn’t a graphic designer handbook.” You can count on what a small bookshop employee tells you. It’s like the library except you get to keep your newfound treasure.
- The “intangibles.” There is an “atmosphere” to a small store. You may find a comfortable amount of clutter, pictures drawn by local schoolchildren, and potted plants. Walking into a small bookshop, you will feel the tension in your neck and shoulders disappear, your attitude improves, and time slow down.
Yes, I am a proud Book Nook Schnook. Do yourself a favor and visit your locally owned bookseller. It’ll be good for you – and good for the neighborhood. There are more than 1600 of them still around. When you do, stop by and say “Hello!” for me. And hey, if you want to buy me a book…even better!
We’ve lost so many great bookstores here in LA – back a couple of decades the “Change of Hobbit” store in Westwood by UCLA and later in Santa Monica was a holy place for me. Pasadena seems to be the area that’s still hot for great book stores these days. I’ve been to Vroman’s several times for book signings (John Scalzi, Cory Doctorow, etc), a comic book store that I can’t remember the name of for book signings by Richard Kadrey, and there’s a wonderful used book store that I found while doing a training day for the Avon Walk a few years back. It’s probably a good thing that it’s a 45 minute to two-hour drive to get there or I would have even more unread books than I have now!
We have also lost so many wonderful shops. It’s very sad. I was at Barnes today and while I love the store, I don’t have any choice, unless I want to go into the heart o the city or drive an forty-five minutes to a suburb. So Barnes it is, unless I have a whole day to go back and forth. So very sad. I saw a book I liked but it was $45. I looked it up on Amazon and it was $30…that’s why Amazon will eventually be the only place left. I owned a bookstore with my friends and we couldn’t make it because of the huge discounts the large stores get when buying books. They would order thousands and we would order ten. Between that and the fact that we couldn’t possibly discount our books, we just couldn’t stay in business. It was a feminist bookshop with posters and so many wonderful things for kids and women but even those who tried to support us couldn’t pass up the savings they received at the big stores. It was fun and I loved it but there was no way we could keep going. We had great authors come in and jewelry shows and gray hounds in the store for adoption…but the big stores ate us alive with their discounts and food.