Saturday, July 23, 2011

No Tears Here

So in our local paper there has been a fair amount of hand wringing and eulogizing over the closure of the Borders Bookstore this week.

Leading the list of heart-wrenching observations is the loss of more than 25 jobs, which I agree, is a pretty bad thing, especially in this economy where it's no small feat to find another job. There's also been some praise for the franchise owner, who has been active in the community and has made efforts to promote literacy projects. Laudable stuff, that.

But as a local author, I have to confess I'm a bit bewildered by all the mourning. Not only did I have to consistently exert herculean efforts to convince the local Borders to keep my books in stock (and I'm distributed by a major publisher, so it's not like this was difficult) but I was always a bit surprised to see how many outstanding Maine authors were not on their shelves. This was in sharp contrast to our small, independently owned downtown bookstore (Gulf of Maine Books) where the owners are knowledgeable and actively promote Maine writers.

Plus, my neighbors seem to forget what happened when Borders arrived.

It located itself in a strip mall a few short years ago within (literally) a potato-bazooka-blast distance from a Maine-based bookstore/cafe called Bookland. Bookland was a largish store, filled with knowledgeable employees and book-lovers, and was a watering hole for many in our community. It hosted book signings by local authors, amazing Harry Potter parties for kids on "release" nights, sponsored literacy projects in the schools ... it was a fine store and good neighbor. It struggled mightily to remain open when Big Box Borders elbowed its way into town, but we all know the scenario: it was no match for the discounts which the multi-million dollar giant could offer customers, and eventually closed its doors. That retail space remains vacant. Oh, and a lot of people lost their jobs back then, too.

The narrative of the predatory Big Box Store and the demise of the Local Store is an oft-told, well-known tale at this point ... but it's repeated again and again in communities all over our country, and I don't understand why we haven't figured it out yet. We're all so sad when the little mom and pop convenience store, where you could get anything from screws to crochet hooks to school supplies to winter boots, is euthanized by the arrival of a Target or a WalMart, but when those chains open we all scurry to be the first to pick up deals on opening day.

Here's the really scary thing: in some communities, now that Borders has closed, there is no bookstore left. They killed off the competition, and now have disappeared in a puff of smoke themselves.

Amazon must be lovin' this.

As an author, I have gained a deep, deep, deep (we're talkin' Grand Canyon here) appreciation for the small business owners who run independent bookstores in communities throughout our country. They promote literacy and the arts every day they open their doors, and they're not getting rich doing it. May I humbly suggest that the next time you want a book, you browse one of their stores instead of the internet?

As an author, there are all sorts of things one can do to not only sell books but also support local stores. I thought this blog had a couple of great ideas:

Meanwhile, here's a shout-out to just a few of my all-time favorite indie bookstores:

Sherman's Books (Maine!) who recently sponsored the Books in Boothbay Summer Book Fair. Thanks, Jeff and Audrey!

Gulf of Maine (Brunswick) and the amazing, one-of-a-kind Gary Lawless.

Children's Book Cellar (Waterville), an anchor of literacy in downtown Waterville.

Longfellow Books (Portland)

The Vermont Book Shop (Middlebury) which was my favorite bookstore when I was a student and was reportedly Robert Frost's favorite, too.