The Future of Bookstores

A blogger from Vermont wrote a somber piece entitled RIP, Waldenbooks. Another small bookstore closed its doors.

Remember the days where the “big” chain stores were Waldenbooks, B. Dalton and Bookstar? Now those stores are owned by Borders (Walden) and Barnes & Noble (B. Dalton and Bookstar). And nearly all of us have bought books on Amazon. These days, it’s rare to find one of those smaller “chain” stores, let alone a local, independent bookstore in your neighborhood.

Which leads me to ask – Where have all the independent bookstores gone? Go to any mall, shopping plaza or community and you’re bound to find Borders or Barnes & Noble. But is that it? Have the independent booksellers been replaced by those large retailers (and the online sales arena)?

Please understand that this post is, in no way, a complaint against the big bookstores. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my family and I can spend hours in Borders and Barnes & Noble. So I’m not blaming large stores or online vendors for the decrease in local bookstores. I place blame where it’s due – on the consumer, on me.

There is a wonderful independent bookstore that my husband and I often frequent in a local beachfront community. You walk in to beautiful, themed displays, and a colorful children’s section with kid’s art on the walls. The shelves are lined with paragraph-long hand-written “I Recommend This Book” notes. The employees are smiling, reading, talking about books. I love that you can say to any employee, “I loved The Kite Runner. What else would I like?” And that employee would name 5 -6 titles, explain why you must read them, and sure enough, they were right. These employees aren’t just interested in selling books. They want to help the reader find the perfect book.

But why am I to blame for the demise of local shop-fronts? And what does that have to do with the independent bookstore described above? Because while I’m at this quaint, local bookstore and find several novels to take home, I find myself thinking, I can get this on Amazon for a fraction of the cost. Or maybe I’ll use this weekend’s Borders coupon. This consumer mentality is what’s hurting independent bookstores. And I take full ownership for my part in it.

It’s a tough call. The economy is in the tank and money is tighter these days. So of course we’re going to look for ways to save money while still supporting our reading habit. But on the other hand, if we want to support our local community and independently-owned business, we need to spend that extra 30% for the greater good.

And what’s next? Are the large chain stores in danger as online booksellers continue to grow and electronic books become more popular? Probably. So what do we paper book-buyers do?

Taking a middle ground approach is the most realistic for me. I’ll support the local mom-and-pop bookstore, knowing that my dollar is not only supporting a business, but also helping a local treasure succeed. And I’ll continue shopping at the big stores that also bring me much joy.

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