If you like books, the hardcopy kind with pages that turn, and you’re paying half a mind’s attention to the changes in trying to sell information, you can see that libraries and bookstores will have to change to survive. When telelvision became the norm for collecting news, people said radio would die. It hasn’t. It’s just changed. Television isn’t dying, but it’s changing. (I love that we’re in the middle of this change to witness how it’s morphing.)
But how do bookstores stay unique? I’m just actively starting to care about this question, so I really am asking. Take the bookstore in Madison, CT, RJ Julia, one of the most successful and respected independent booksellers in the world. In the time it takes for a slow barrista to pull a long shot, the Espresso Book Machine is the only thing of its kind on the retail level. It produces great color quality with the cover on the spot when the customer wants it. (The “Espresso” name is just goofy enough I keep thinking someone’s gong to tell me they saw this on The Onion. But as I haven’t had a comment since 2009, I might welcome the correction.) I call it a modern robot. Probably a few old-world bookbinders who’d like to curb stomp it.
I loved a little dive in Austin, TX called 12th Street Books, born in 1992. To a big college town, they offered a good sized used selection of books for such a small space with a tiny but well-run espresso bar and pastry case. Somehow they squeezed in easy chairs too. A real claustrophobe would’ve hated it! But I loved it if I didn’t think about the book dust I was breathing in. It’s not only still there, it’s recently remodeled and reinvented as an antiquarian bookstore specializing in literary first editions, small-press, and finer bindings. It’s the only one of its kind in Austin.
My area now has the only one of it’s kind. It’s brand new, and though this is a very precarious time to start a new business when people are even saying no to Girl Scouts, it has great potential. The books are new and 1/2 price. Named Giant Book Sale, the new owner bought all the remaining equipment from Borders which had last occupied that space. The twist is in the cafe. Run by a Latino couple who have been teaching after-school programs for several years, John Paul and Lucy Lepeley offer daily guitar and piano lessons in the afternoons. They also teach art and tutoring sessions. You can even sign up for salsa lessons. Their cafe space is generous for movie nights, toddler readings, study groups and book clubs. They’re in a good location by well known stores, namely, Sports Chalet and Kohl’s on Rosewood Avenue in in the center of Pleasanton. Better yet, it’s locally owned.
I am watching how this business play out. I hope it succeeds, and becomes a place we can return to as we’re raising our children and bringing our friends.
When fewer people are flooding an industry with job applications pursuing work in what was a much bigger industry 10 years ago, looks to me like that industry would draw the real talented people who love it. People who are in it for more than money, and sticking around for the long haul. I like that. I like being with people like that. Instead of competing with other people looking to make a fortune in money, let’s compete with other people who want to make a fortune in good quality.