My eight-year-old self enjoys his shelf of books in quarantine. He gets to choose each day between writing about reading or reading about writing.
* * * *
I’ve been told that I look like a kid in a candy store when we visit a book store. I suddenly appear to have multiple arms, like a Hindu deity, and my stride becomes a purposeful lurch.
There are two booksellers in my hometown of New Paltz, NY, plus our legendary record store offers a wall of books. When was the last time you visited a record store? Heck, it’s been a couple years since I have … and I reside in a community which has one.
An acquaintance, a rare book collector, was about to open a third bookshop here this spring, but the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent quarantine interfered. It is a difficult time to start a business other than a vape outlet or coffee shop anyway, even in a college town like ours, even in times when one can come into physical contact with customers, delivery boxes, cash. There will be better times.
There are about 2200 independent booksellers in the United States, which is a large increase from the number seen ten years ago.
The fact that my little town is about to gain one to make a total of three speaks to that welcome comeback. However, by comparison, in 2014 (the latest year a count was taken), it was estimated that there were 35,000 vape shops in the United States. This number has certainly begun to decline with the backlash and increase in regulatory scrutiny that the vaping fad has attracted, but the difference is stark: at least ten times the number of vape stores to booksellers.
Both products are available through online resources, so the proliferation and continued popularity of vape stores over booksellers speaks to the power of immediate physical need over personal patience. (With my own personal addiction experiences, I understand the difference all too well, so I refuse to sit in judgement.)
Nonetheless, 2200 of anything in a nation of 300 million+ strikes me as incredibly scarce.
I spent the 1990s employed at an independent bookseller. (And what is the difference between the terms “bookstore” and “bookseller”? The owner of the bookseller in which I worked explained to any employee who made the mistake of answering the phone in his presence with a cheery, “Such-and-So Bookstore, how can I help you?”—in other words, me on my first day there: “We are not in the business of storing books.” His eyes flared. We were a bookseller.)
An independent bookseller is not a part of a chain of stores, is not owned by a big corporation. I loved working in a building full of books, for a locally-owned business that was a part of the community, but I hated working for anyone. (I am a hard worker and a fair employee, except for the whole “being an employee” part.) When one works for people who started their own business (I have seen this in multiple retail establishments and at a couple of family-owned newspapers), one can not impress the owners with one’s dedication, as they were so dedicated that they started the darn thing in the first place.
Some independent-owned booksellers can be very large and successful: the Strand in New York City, Prairie Lights in Iowa City, the Tattered Cover in Denver. The bookseller that I worked for closed in 2006 after 35 years in business, which is a statement that brings the happy and the sad right next to one another. It was a great run, which is a happy thing, but it ended.
I still dream that I work there, twenty years after I left. I also still sometimes dream that I am a browser in a crowded store in the first mall that I used to bike to, South Hills Mall in Poughkeepsie. The store was one of a chain that was called “Book & Record,” and it did not sell many of either of those items, which may explain its current status as a dead store from the ’70s that no one but me remembers. Even that mall itself has been demolished and exists only in memory. I am only fifty-one, but I’ve seen malls kill city downtowns and chains kill department stores and then internet shopping kill malls.
My eight-year-old self still remembers the experience of losing himself in the one shelf of books or the one rack of vinyl records that Book & Record deigned to display among its offerings of almost anything except books & records, that experience of daydreaming about reading, which is something like daydreaming about having the chance to get around to daydreaming someday, which is a wonderful daydream.
My eight-year-old enjoys his shelf of books in quarantine. He gets to choose each day between writing about reading or reading about writing. My fifty-one-year-old self reminds him that it is a sunny day today …
The WordPress Daily Prompt for April 14 asks us to reflect on the word, “Book.”
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