Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Loss of an old friend

I get more books for review than I could possibly ever read, so I don't really get to the bookstore as much as I would like anymore. It's a decision to save money and my wife's sanity. You see, I'm physically incapable of leaving a bookstore without at least a couple of purchases, and with thousands of books already stacked around the house it's just adding to the problem of too many books, too little time. (Which, in my mind, is not a bad problem to have.)

When I found myself at the local mall the other day, I decided I'd drop in on one of my favorite shops, Waldenbooks. Sure, I know it's a national chain, but it didn't really feel like one. It was a smaller shop with kind of an intimate feel. It felt to me what a bookstore should feel like. I use the past tense because when I arrived at the door to the store, the metal gate was down with a sign that said "Sorry, closed" hanging in front of a forlorn landscape of empty shelves. It truly saddened me.

When I was a teenager, I worked in that same mall and was in the store at least a couple of times per week. The people who worked there knew me and knew what I liked. They'd often make suggestions or even hold books that they knew I'd want back for me. When I got my check every other week, a good portion of it went to pick up a stack of books from Waldenbooks.

Eventually, I took a "real" job in another city and moved away from the store. Then, when I moved back, I started writing book reviews and really had no need to visit so often. Still, I wandered in occasionally. The people no longer knew me, but the place still felt cozy and comfortable, even when they moved to a bigger location.

Thankfully, we do still have one nice independent shop here, even though it's a little out of the way for me. I guess that's where I'll have to go to get that same cozy feeling. The other choices are not so appealing. There's independent where the staff sniffs and looks down their noses if you ask for fantasy (at least the last time I shopped there, which has been quite some time). And we have a massive national chain store that's more like a warehouse than a bookstore. It's in a converted Wal-Mart building, and it's the kind of place where the staff probably wouldn't remember you if you did go in a couple of times a week. It gets the job done, but it takes away from the book shopping experience for me.

I guess it's a sign of the times. With books becoming so cheap and easy to get over the Internet, I'm sure scores more brick-and-mortar shops will be shutting their doors. Perhaps I lose some credibility since I'm saying this while offering books for sale on my site through Amazon (although at the rate I sell, I'm certainly not cutting into anyone's sales), but still it's a sad thing to me. I guess I'm torn. While I love the convenience of ordering online, there's nothing quite like walking through rows and rows of books in your local bookstore. I'd hate to see that go away.

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