When people talk about the death of the bookstore, they often refer to small, local shops filled with the spirit of whatever neighborhood they inhabit. In the last several years, however, those independent bookstores have experienced a minor resurgence. Now it is the large chains, the companies like Barnes & Noble, that have to find their place in the modern era. After all, Barnes & Noble can’t offer the same sense of community that an independent shop can, but it can’t compete with the goliath that is Amazon either.
The New Yorker recently published a great article by David Sax, “What Barnes & Noble Doesn’t Get about Bookstores”, that traces Barnes & Noble’s status over the last few decades. The piece describes the struggles of this period well, and I won’t do it an injustice by trying to summarize it here. I do, however, want to share a brief and loving excerpt that describes alternative bookstores.
“The independent bookstores that have proved successful are uniquely suited to the community they’re in. Some are big. Some are small. Some are homey and stitched together with found shelving. Others are practically works of art and architecture. They stock the books that the community wants, and, while their selections are minuscule compared with Barnes & Noble, the staff can speak to the books on those shelves with authority. In other words, they are all different…The brick-and-mortar stores that do best today are the ones people want to shop in, not the ones they have to.”
Despite the success of independent bookstores and Amazon, the future of brick and mortar stores remains amorphous. I’d love to hear how you think or hope that the next few years will treat these bookstores. Even though it wasn’t my ideal vision of a bookstore, I was heartbroken when the Borders Bookstore in my hometown went out of business – in retrospect, that was sign that the company would file bankruptcy a few, short years later – and I would regret losing some of the other book selling mainstays.