No, not because it’s a re-re-make of a 1930s James Stewart film, The Shop Around the Corner, or because it’s a remake of a later film with Judy Garland which word for word is The Shop Around The Corner, nor is it because it involves AOL and e-mail.
The premise of two people who dislike each other intensely, but unknowingly with online names via e-mail fall in love is even ok, IF the business the two have in common was not selling books.
Tom Hanks character is a personified large chain store, and the Meg Ryan character owns a children’s independent bookstore put out of business by Tom Hanks. I don’t care what sweetness one writes in an e-mail, nothing could endear me to someone who deliberately parks a chain store in a place where he knows MY small business will be destroyed and goes about it without a bit of conscience.
I read an interview with director/screenwriter Nora Ephron, who said she got the idea when a B&N moved into her neighborhood and the residents complained because they knew it would destroy Shakespeare and Company, the long standing indie. She seemed to feel it was much ado about nothing, claiming that those who complained readily took to B&N once the store was there, loyalty to Shakespeare not a factor.
I worked for Murder Ink, a store owned by the same people as Shakespeare, but had no real contact with them. I do know that they carried almost everything, and the booksellers knowledgeable, but a bit snooty.
Still, the reason for customers falling into a large chain store was not lack of friendliness, it was clear dollars and cents. Who is going to pay full price for a brand new hardcover when they can get it for a large percentage off? And once inside, they can peruse until they find the elusive classic for school, or the cookbook they want to give Aunt Ida, it’ll just take far more time to locate the books than it did at Shakespeare. Because handsellers will not be walking the aisles in an attempt to help a customer.
So, Meg is out of her beloved store, her dream destroyed, her income gone, the employees scattered, yet, all is forgiven because he writes nice mail?
And within here lies the great fault of the film. Ms. Ephron does not understand book lovers and bookstore owners. We are a different breed. Owning and selling the written word is not a business as much as a passion, a need, a love. Maybe a butcher losing her deli may be ok with love letters, maybe a boutique owner could live without selling the gaudy dresses, but deprive a book lover their independence and ability to share that love, and you have an enemy for life.
Realistically, when Meg found that Tom was the bastard behind the conglomerate who wiped out her existence, she would have shoved a discounted remainder down his throat, or shoved it somewhere else uncomfortable. Communicating one’s passion for reading through the sale of books is a vocation, a life style choice, a life sacrifice, because no one, no one, in indies goes into business for money.
Of course the argument made is this is free enterprise, free market, the strong survive, the weak do not. All true. But there is something to be said for monopolies being broken. When we allow one entity to consume all others, the landscape will eventually be full of nothing but Walmarts, yes chain bookstores, your days are numbered too. This is how free enterprise unregulated monopolies work.
And by the way. The B&N that took out not one but two indie bookstores? Closed. Yep. The giant on the corner, 3 story, chock full of bargains closed. It simply wasn’t generating the profits expected of a satellite chain store.
So, the part of Manhattan that once had two nicely supported Shakespeare and Company stores, no longer has even one chain within walking distance.
And Tom and Meg live happily ever after?