Grim. That is how I feel lately. And I am fairly certain that it has nothing to do with the Halloween holiday coming up soon. I am feeling grim about the future of independent bookstores. I have been a bookseller since 1995. This was just after Amazon went live. People talked about the imminent death of the brick & mortar bookstore. I believed that people would always want to touch a book before they bought it. I believed that the experience of shopping in a well appointed store would fulfill not just a need for reading material, but a need to belong to something. Bookstores are their own community: welcoming of all. But these communities are dying. Borders is gone. Barnes & Noble has shuttered a number of sites in recent months. There are countless independent stores that no longer exist. You can read here a nice little piece in the Economist about the changing industry.
For years I believed that I could create a space that would elude these threats. With a little grit and humor, I could survive the behemoths. And I have, to a degree. The threats my store (and others) face are not just technological ones. Everyone is facing hard times in this economy. Everyone is trying to survive. I recognize that when there are fewer dollars coming in, tough choices are made about where the dollars going out go. Sometimes I wonder, do we really need books? I mean, as humans, could we survive without them? Physiologically, yes. But emotionally? I don't believe that I could. So I am trying to make changes that will help my little store survive. Some will be subtle, you won't even notice it. But others will be big. You will always find Third Street Books, either in the flesh or online to be a vibrant community. Third Street Books will always be there to special order that book for you and get it to you in a few days (with no shipping charge). We will always be able to recommend a title for your Uncle Bob or your niece who you barely know but her mother tells you she loves some title called The Hunger Games. We will always gift wrap (for free) a quick little joke gift that you bought on your lunch for your office-mate - making that gift of yours a tiny bit more special. And we will continue to support people in the community, by hiring them, paying local taxes, donating cash and books to local schools, raising money for the food bank and just generally being a safe and inviting place to hang out. I would really like to hear from someone who successfully got a donation from Amazon for the local FFA fundraising dinner.