I love visiting independent bookstores. I was nearby one of the major ones in my area yesterday, and was already thinking about my daily blog post, so I stopped in for help.
Going to an independent bookstore always makes me think things. Barnes and Noble and Borders may be nicer inside, and have the advantage of offering coffee, but they're also pretty sterile. If you've been inside one, you've pretty much seen them all, from New York to California and everywhere in between. My local bookstore, Talking Leaves, definitely isn't like that. They have posters on the walls for local events. They carry more free newspapers than I knew existed (we have a Marxist paper here, who knew?). The walls and counter spaces are festooned with political cartoons about freedom of speech, quotes urging the customers to fight against homogenization and the repression of liberty, and interesting photographs of the city.
The two college-aged women working there were talking and laughing and listening to Hole's Live Through This album as they cut open boxes of books. I used to listen to that same album all the time when I was in college, but it belonged to my friend Karen, and I haven't heard it since then, so it made me feel good to hear them playing it and enjoying it. The only other customer was a college-professor type straight out of Central Casting, tweed jacket with elbow patches and everything. In the middle of the store was a table of books about George Bush marked 40% off. I'm also a member of Talking Leaves, so I scored Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose's Bushwhacked for seven dollars and change. I wanted to stay longer, but they were getting ready to close, so I left.
Today, over on Bookchase, I found this post, about a very well-known independent bookstore in South Carolina that was forced to close its doors. It's a sad story and it's happening all too often. Around here, businesses are fighting back against Miracle Mile with a Buffalo First initiative. They're having an organized shopping event, and offering a coupon book for locally owned stores. Even if your city doesn't have such an organized movement, it's important to remember to take a little extra time and spend a little extra money at a locally owned business. They offer different products, better service, and an actual experience.
I find it especially nice at Christmas time. It's much less stressful than battling thousands of irritated shoppers in the big-box stores, and then battling them again on the drive home. It's more fun than cruising to some internet site and point-clicking your way to a gift that you pray arrives on time, in one piece, as ordered. The staff is usually less harried because they're not dealing with thousands of angry people a day while wondering what will become of their jobs on January 2nd. So I join Sam Houston in encouraging you to support your local independent bookstore, and other local retailers -- or lose them.