Where Have All The Indies Gone, and B. Dalton’s and Brentano’s and Waldonbooks, and Borders and Even, EEK! B&N?

There is no place to buy new books anywhere within my radius, and I don’t live in Timbuktu. I live right outside a major city, suburbs with millions of people, and there are practically no bookstores. Three B&N’s are hanging on, but who knows if they will disappear the way the huge double decker one did at Columbus Circle, NY, the B&N that drove Shakespeare & Co. out of business. (Although the snottiness of the bookmen didn’t help) I can find several used bookstores within fairly long driving distances, long in suburb terms, 20 or 30 minutes. Two of these stores are paperback exchanges. A third one recently closed. There is a very odd bookstore in the historical town of Mount Holly, but it doesn’t have anything new, and honestly, doesn’t seem to have much of anything. It is beautifully decked out in atmospheric decor, leather chair, witch’s cape, small rooms. The stock seems to consist of a jumble full of last year’s or the year before’s popular lit. I paid for calligraphy lessons at one point, which never materialized, and when I went to get a refund, was told the episode of my purchase never happened. When I returned with my receipt, I was given a check, that bounced. When I returned again, before I could open my mouth, cash was shoved into my palms. It seemed actual customers were within, apparently some author was doing a reading, and it would have been embarrassing to have me announce my mission. (Well, in researching for the article, I found this store is closed. Big surprise.)

Some time ago I read in the local newspaper that a bookstore in a nearby town needed volunteers for reading to children, and I had wanted to do something like that for quite some time, but never found a venue. I hopped up, that moment, and went off to the store I hadn’t known about before, although my mother told me my godmother had bought her books there for years. It was in an extremely inconvenient location–and had I not been told exactly where to go, I would have never found it. It was on the second floor and the stairs were steep. My disappointment was great to find that it now was a used, trade-in bookstore, and that although they had advertised for various volunteers, they had no real plan to implement volunteers if some popped up, like me. I didn’t get discouraged, yet. I met the owner, who was the daughter of the original proprietor, and apparently a stand-up comic, one with a tremendously filthy mouth. Her mother had the store when it was a regular indie, but now had Alzheimer’s so the daughter stepped in. They had moved all the books up to this location, and were preparing a different one below. A few weeks later, they even had a store opening party, too bad the store wasn’t opened, nor did it look like it ever would. And, it didn’t. After I had brought a ton of books to trade, was given my total on paper, the store closed, my credit, and hopes for a place to enjoy buying books locally, disappeared.

There once was this place called The Mart–it was this interesting conglomeration of cut-rate stores. Cheap shoes, clothes, Elvis glow in the dark velvet paintings, fiber-optic fountains, 3D photos, massages in the halls, hot dogs, and famous Philly pretzels. It was an institution of crap. Enjoyable crap, including a bookstore where my father used to purchase his Mickey Spillanes and other titles one had to go through a toll stile to see– adults only. Recently, The Mart was forced to close by the township who apparently wasn’t a crap fan, and they leveled the place to make room for a huge housing development. (Which was never built).  50 years of selling crap gone, gone gone. Well, not quite–some of the crap moved to another town into another type of long building. Within this I found a used trade-in paperback store that was fun to visit–at least in the beginning. After a while I noticed that none of the stock ever changed. All of my trade-ins were still there–I had to be careful not to buy what I brought. I liked the owners, hoped it would work out–but sure enough, one visit, the store was vacant–we had missed their final sale, probably was all my stuff anyway.

One of the two trade-in stores seems to be thriving-I’ve been to it a few times over a span of  a couple of years, and have found some good things to read. Small, with an elderly lady seated with no idea of stock, it works for the occasional, ‘I need to be in a bookstore, no matter what’. The other store is farther away, and I’ve only visited once–although there seemed to be loads of stock. Hopefully, it’s still there. What I’ve noticed about trade-in stores, you still pay quite a bit for that used book–because the trade-in only gives you at most, half the cost off, the other half you end up forking out dough. And if you buy something without credit–it’s almost as much as the cover price.

In the dim past, I haunted the chain bookstores at the malls in my vicinity. There was a wonderful Waldenbook  where I bought all my huge hardcover movie star references as a teen. B. Dalton’s gave me the occasional gothic fiction when I craved it. I’m not sure when they disappeared, and I only just learned that they were consolidated and somehow K-Mart owned them. And Borders. And, gee whiz, Brentano’s! Brentano’s was an upscale bookstore in Manhattan that one visited to absorb class and style. And to pay a fortune for one oversized eight pound tome on fabrics through the ages. I loved it.

When I heard that The Coliseum had closed, I knew indies days were numbered. The Coliseum seemed to have been on 57th St since Roman times. Huge, with new, older, discounted, obscure, and bestsellers, there was no better place to wile away hours lost in the wonder that is a bookstore. During the three weeks I could stand being a phone pollster in an office across the street, each lunch hour was devoured, eaten away quickly with perusing, and buying–in the end I probably spent the pittance salary all on books to assuage the agony of that job.

And now it’s down to B&N. The Evil Empire, as we called it. Compared to Amazon, the chain seems almost angelic. Before B&N became a chain, it’s store down around 18th street was a joy to wander through. Across the street was a remainder B&N, another fine treat. All that changed.

So, what to do? I miss bookstores. Even the old chain bookstores. And now, am I going to miss Barnes and Noble? I shudder to think this may happen. If there is no where else but B&N, and you love love love books, and you need book fixes on a regular basis, then B&N will become a necessity, just like the Coliseum, Brentano’s Waldonbooks, and B. Dalton’s before. And if Amazon succeeds in their dark plot to take over the world of print–that leaves absolutely no new bookstores at all. Think on that for a second. A huge suburban area without any new books for sale, anywhere in the physical world. But, if Amazon succeeds, there will be no physical books either. And that makes me physically ill.

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  • I have a paperback exchange near where I live that deals mostly in mass market paperbacks. I trade in my books there exclusively for the privilege of paying only $0.50 a piece for picture books, of which they have a very tiny selection. But reading this article makes me glad that it’s there, and proud that I patronize it frequently. I do wish we had a bookstore that sells new books. There are three used book stores in my hometown- one Friends of the Library (run on donations and volunteers), the paperback exchange, and a used-book store that also sells used clothes and toys. I think I will go visit one of them today and tell them to HANG ON.

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