The Future of Bookstores

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The Future of Bookstores

Post by Ralph » Fri Jun 02, 2006 8:38 pm

Voice Literary Supplement
Chain Reaction
Do bookstores have a future?
by Paul Collins
May 22nd, 2006 5:50 PM


by Benjamin Strong
Earlier this month the legendary Cody's Books in Berkeley announced that it was closing its doors for good. It's a grim if unsurprising development. The last decade has not been kind to the traditional corner bookshop. Battered by online discounts and chain superstores, the American Booksellers Association has crumbled from 5,200 bookstores in 1991 to 1,702 stores in 2005. So if you were to seek a summary of their dilemma, this one might sound apt: "The old-fashioned bookstore was a charming place, but charm alone will not solve the problem of modern book distribution. . . . Hard though it may be to face the fact, the bookstore of today cannot primarily be a place for those who revere books as things-in-themselves."

An editorial about the opening of another Borders superstore crammed with lattes and Sudoku instead of Foucault and Zola? No. Try a Carnegie Corporation report . . . from 1930.

Chain superstores, notes Laura J. Miller's fascinating new study Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption (University of Chicago Press), are the latest manifestation of a centuries-old struggle between bookselling Davids and Goliaths—a battle over where Americans actually shop versus stores with, Miller tartly notes, "a style of retailing that Americans at least profess to miss."

The battle is as much about culture as it is about cash. "It's almost as if there are two tracks of bookselling, the commercial and the literary," muses ABA president Mitchell Kaplan in an interview with the Voice. (Disclosure: As an author, I've read at many of these chains and indies, and my work has been promoted by ABA's Book Sense.) The founder of the Miami-area Books & Books, Kaplan started from a sheer love of what the Carnegie report pronounced dead: books as things-in-themselves. "When you lose an [independent] bookstore, you don't just lose the place," Kaplan explains. "You lose the people. Knowledgeable book people are being lost from book culture."

Are we witnessing the extinction of that culture?

"Here's how it used to be," recalls Steve Bercu, founder of the Austin, Texas, shop BookPeople. "Across the street from the University [of Texas], they had about 15 bookstores—all of them relatively small, all niche stores." And now? "Everybody's gone. One hundred percent of them. There's not a single bookshop on that street now."

The reason, he says, boils down to one word: Chains.

Bercu should know: In 2002, he led a neighborhood coalition to accomplish the rare feat of beating back a Borders superstore looking to open across the street from BookPeople. While the effect of online bookselling has been diffuse and of questionable profitability, when a bricks-and-mortar chain fires up its espresso machines and Norah Jones CDs nearby, it's often the death knell for an indie. So when asked if the proposed placement of that Borders was a coincidence, Bercu laughs.

"No," he responds quickly. "It was not. They open these stores down the block from the established local bookstores. That's a knockout blow."

But it's only the latest round in a very long fight. Before Borders and Barnes & Noble, the bête noire of bookshops was the department store. When Macy's opened its first book department in 1869, local bookstores found themselves besieged by the original big-box retailing: deep discounts, clueless clerks, and a fearlessly déclassé combination of non-book "notions" and bestsellers that left snobs sputtering . . . but delighted the masses.

"Within a decade," Miller's study notes, "Macy's was one of the largest book outlets in the country."

Other department stores followed. Through the middle of the 20th century, they controlled as much as half the book trade. Small book chains like Brentano's and Doubleday also appeared. Then, as now, independent booksellers grumbled about sweetheart deals and the chains resolutely middlebrow taste. Additional competition from discount stores and grocers hardly helped. "[T]he ordinary book outlet must now compete with everything from delicatessens to whore houses," Miller quotes one miffed observer from 1954.

Still, independent bookstores survived—thrived, even. So what's changed? First, one must follow the money.

"Bookselling is essentially a consignment business," points out Andrew Laties, VP of the Brooklyn bookstore Vox Pop, in his recent memoir-cum-manifesto Rebel Bookseller (Vox Pop). In that innocuous statement resides the predicament of independent bookselling. Prodded by the Depression, in the 1930s publisher Alfred Knopf let bookstores stock his titles at little risk by making unsold copies returnable for credit on other Knopf titles. The practice became the industry standard. It seems like a good deal, and it encourages booksellers to stock untried authors. But in the early 1990s, several forces converged with overstock returns to create a perfect bookselling storm.

The first was the rise of mall-based chains with computerized inventories, like B. Dalton and Waldenbooks. Many mergers and shakeouts later, two major chains emerged: Borders and Barnes & Noble. Both went public. Wall Street investment encouraged steroidal growth without regard for quick profitability—as Kaplan puts it, "They didn't have to play by the same rules as us. They could just keep losing money." These chains built massive superstores wallpapered at little risk with returnable books. It was a boom time for publishers—at least, until that unsold "wallpaper" got returned.

Secondly, a 1979 Supreme Court ruling (Thor Power Tool Company
v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue) changed inventory accounting, encouraging retailers to dump unsold goods before the end of their fiscal year. A huge market in remaindered books was born, and chains now had a surefire promotional item to load up their display tables. It's the most profoundly unnoticed trend of literary culture in the last two decades. "I feel like I've been trapped in the publisher's model of featuring new books," says Sarah McNally, whose 2004 founding of a successful new Manhattan book- store, McNally Robinson, is a most notable exception to the trend of bookstore closings. "A publisher's P&L [profit and loss statement] means that a book has to earn money as soon as possible, but I want my customers to be choosing from the best books in the world on my front tables, regardless of when they were published."

Backed by financial muscle and heavy inventories, chains demanded lower wholesale prices to deeply discount bestsellers—a practice that had previously been illegal until the final repeal of anti-monopoly fair-trade laws in 1975. Chains also wanted more co-op money—the product placement fees publishers pay for prominent display. If subsidizing chains through overstock returns and co-op money wasn't enough of an irony for publishers, they also found themselves competing with a chain. Barnes & Noble's proprietary publishing house is now thriving—and its success such a touchy subject that in a March 16 investor conference call CEO Steve Riggio wouldn't break out its sales figures. "We're not investing in intellectual properties that have a lot of high risk associated with them," was all Riggio would say, citing such genres as puzzles, astrology, and woodworking.

Critics can sniff at that. But there still remains one irreducible fact about chains: People like shopping at them.

Like milk in a grocery store, the kids' section of a Barnes & Noble is almost always placed far from the entrance. Why?

Simple: B&N children's sections are a customer magnet, and possibly the most child-friendly and parentally designed spaces in the history of retailing. There are low shelves, allowing good sight lines so that you can see your kid. There's carpeting for inevitable toddler face-plants. A train table to play at. Comfy chairs for the parents. A single exit in sight of those chairs, so that your kid can't bolt. Sit in the Barnes & Noble kids' section, and their populist rhetoric makes sense. Some indie bookstores are not just figuratively exclusionary: If you have a stroller or a wheelchair, you literally cannot get inside some of them.

Superstores, with their SUV-wide center aisles and Rachael Ray displays, surely beg for hipster sneers. But what about when those hipsters have kids or get old?

This is why discounts alone do not account for the success of chains—as Mitchell Kaplan notes dismissively, "Most of their books are not discounted." Yet chains remain almost ridiculously pleasant places to shop. How? By brilliantly mirroring the country's best innovations in bookselling. Like nearly everything else about Barnes & Noble, their children's section is not really new at all. The child-friendly bookstore within a store, as Rebel Bookseller author Laties points out in an e-mail to the Voice, was around as early as the 1940s, when the Carson Pirie Scott department store pioneered the concept. The in-store café? That first appeared at Upstart Crow and Kramerbooks & Afterwords in the 1970s. In-house publishing? Doubleday. Library-like burnished woods and comfy chairs? Brentano's. Computerized inventory control? That would be another chain altogether: B. Dalton . . . which Barnes & Noble acquired.

As comedian Steven Wright once observed, it's the second mouse that gets the cheese.

Independent stores haven't taken this lying down. Chain competition has forced them to become better run, and Kaplan cites initiatives like Above the Treeline, a software suite that gives indies the deep inventory and sales analysis currently enjoyed by chains. There's also, he notes, customer education through programs like ABA's Book Sense. But Miller's Reluctant Capitalists remains skeptical of Book Sense's efforts to beat chains at their own online and branding games, and with reason. With co-op money, slick inventory control, proprietary publishing, and unheard-of financial muscle—Barnes & Noble's latest quarterly report shows no debt and a staggering $373 million in cash—the playing field has precipitously tilted toward chains.

Today's field, though, may not be the future's. Superstores live and die by generous zoning, massive inventory, co-op money, and deep discounts. Zoning laws may stiffen, return policies change, or price controls curtail loss-leader strategies. All these possibilities, however unlikely, have precedents; indeed, it was the owner of Nantucket Bookworks who last month spearheaded a chain store ban in that island's downtown. Ultimately, though, the greatest vulnerability of chains may be their muscle-bound nature. If print-on-demand technology, though still poky and faintly disreputable, ever achieves the availability and quality of traditional books, the need for overstock returns, remainders, and huge retail spaces may evaporate.

Strange to say, someday superstores may be the historical curiosity that indies are now in danger of becoming.

Paul Collins's books include Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books (Bloomsbury)
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Post by jbuck919 » Fri Jun 02, 2006 8:50 pm

Just as long as they never close the Amazon.com bookstore in... say, where is it, anyway?

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Post by BWV 1080 » Fri Jun 02, 2006 9:31 pm

Eventually (say within 10-20 years) no hard copies of any media will be stocked in inventory in a store - books, music, videos will all be burned or printed on the spot from an electronic catalog. The economics of this model will eventually be too powerful relative to the high costs of keeping a large inventory.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Fri Jun 02, 2006 9:38 pm

jbuck919 wrote:Just as long as they never close the Amazon.com bookstore in... say, where is it, anyway?
In the animist Northwest; specifically, Seattle, Wash.

And I'm with you. About the only reason I go to a brick and mortar bookstore, except used bookstores of course, is to note titles I want to buy used off Amazon. Used bookstores are still gateways to the 4th dimension.
Last edited by Corlyss_D on Fri Jun 02, 2006 9:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by jbuck919 » Fri Jun 02, 2006 9:39 pm

BWV 1080 wrote:Eventually (say within 10-20 years) no hard copies of any media will be stocked in inventory in a store - books, music, videos will all be burned or printed on the spot from an electronic catalog. The economics of this model will eventually be too powerful relative to the high costs of keeping a large inventory.
Is this "electronic catalog" going to bind them for us too? Or permit browsing by wandering around, one of the great pleasures of bookstore shopping? Am I going to be able to get War and Peace or The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in usable form this way, without tying up a printer all day? Will printers be modified to produce standard page sizes so I can take my "online paperback" on the plane with me?

Or perhaps you envision all traditional reading to become obsolete and no one needing to read Adam Smith anymore.
Last edited by jbuck919 on Fri Jun 02, 2006 9:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Fri Jun 02, 2006 9:42 pm

BWV 1080 wrote:Eventually (say within 10-20 years) no hard copies of any media will be stocked in inventory in a store - books, music, videos will all be burned or printed on the spot from an electronic catalog.
I find that difficult to believe. There's no adventing technological infrastructure for it. The quantify of books sold in the US alone seem to argue for a production locus, not a sales locus. If it's ever going to happen I don't think it will be in this century.
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Post by jbuck919 » Fri Jun 02, 2006 9:48 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:
BWV 1080 wrote:Eventually (say within 10-20 years) no hard copies of any media will be stocked in inventory in a store - books, music, videos will all be burned or printed on the spot from an electronic catalog.
I find that difficult to believe. There's no adventing technological infrastructure for it. The quantify of books sold in the US alone seem to argue for a production locus, not a sales locus. If it's ever going to happen I don't think it will be in this century.
Where did you learn to talk like that? :)

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Post by Corlyss_D » Fri Jun 02, 2006 9:49 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
Corlyss_D wrote:
BWV 1080 wrote:Eventually (say within 10-20 years) no hard copies of any media will be stocked in inventory in a store - books, music, videos will all be burned or printed on the spot from an electronic catalog.
I find that difficult to believe. There's no adventing technological infrastructure for it. The quantify of books sold in the US alone seem to argue for a production locus, not a sales locus. If it's ever going to happen I don't think it will be in this century.
Where did you learn to talk like that? :)
Too much BPR when I was in IRS.
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Post by Ralph » Fri Jun 02, 2006 9:57 pm

Bookstores won't disappear. Second-hand bookstores migrate to low rent locations, mostly outside big cities. Many dealers also use the Web and do fairly well.

The chains, especially B&N, have much to offer. I eat at a B&N on average 2-3 times a week and I often also buy something else.

The world changes.
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Post by Corlyss_D » Fri Jun 02, 2006 10:02 pm

Ralph wrote:I eat at a B&N on average 2-3 times a week and I often also buy something else.
Eat? Eat? What's on the menu? Real food or desserts and coffee?
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Post by jbuck919 » Fri Jun 02, 2006 10:20 pm

I might remind everybody that the age of the mega-bookstores like B&N and Borders is relatively new. When I was a kid we had to go all the way to Paramus to find a halfway decent bookstore and even that would be laughable by today's standards. Now there is a B&N in Newburgh, God help us. When I had the privilege of attending as illustrious a university as Princeton I spent more time in the bookstore (which was also the LP store) than anywhere else because I thought it was heaven, but now even that would be considered hopelessly obsolete (but not because of computers).

I look forward to my summer for no smaller reason than that Saratoga has both (the Borders downtown is better). Then don't get me started on libraries.

Thus my 4000th post. Worthy, think ye not?

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Post by BWV 1080 » Fri Jun 02, 2006 10:50 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
BWV 1080 wrote:Eventually (say within 10-20 years) no hard copies of any media will be stocked in inventory in a store - books, music, videos will all be burned or printed on the spot from an electronic catalog. The economics of this model will eventually be too powerful relative to the high costs of keeping a large inventory.
Is this "electronic catalog" going to bind them for us too? Or permit browsing by wandering around, one of the great pleasures of bookstore shopping?


Potentially yes, the technology is not here now but it will likely exist in the future to rapidly print a high quality paperback in a convenient amount of time. Although a better e-book reader may transform the industry much like the mp3 players have done to the recording industry. The economics of on-demand media selling with no large investments in inventory that may or may not sell will likely be too powerful for traditional models to compete with.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Fri Jun 02, 2006 10:59 pm

BWV 1080 wrote:Although a better e-book reader may transform the industry much like the mp3 players have done to the recording industry.
Yeah, I've heard that electronic media was going to make paper obsolete for how many years now? 35 anyway. I'll never pile up in bed with a good e-reader.
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Post by BWV 1080 » Fri Jun 02, 2006 11:03 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:
BWV 1080 wrote:Although a better e-book reader may transform the industry much like the mp3 players have done to the recording industry.
Yeah, I've heard that electronic media was going to make paper obsolete for how many years now? 35 anyway. I'll never pile up in bed with a good e-reader.
Yes but another generation and everyone alive has grown up accustomed to the convenience of the Web.

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Post by Ralph » Fri Jun 02, 2006 11:05 pm

BWV 1080 wrote:
Corlyss_D wrote:
BWV 1080 wrote:Although a better e-book reader may transform the industry much like the mp3 players have done to the recording industry.
Yeah, I've heard that electronic media was going to make paper obsolete for how many years now? 35 anyway. I'll never pile up in bed with a good e-reader.
Yes but another generation and everyone alive has grown up accustomed to the convenience of the Web.
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Post by Corlyss_D » Fri Jun 02, 2006 11:16 pm

BWV 1080 wrote:Yes but another generation and everyone alive has grown up accustomed to the convenience of the Web.
You are referring to the people who get their news from The Daily Show. They don't read.
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Post by Ralph » Sat Jun 03, 2006 5:45 am

Corlyss_D wrote:
BWV 1080 wrote:Yes but another generation and everyone alive has grown up accustomed to the convenience of the Web.
You are referring to the people who get their news from The Daily Show. They don't read.
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The demographics for The Daily Show indicate the viewership is well educated and those people read. Look at the ads - they know their audience.
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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Jun 03, 2006 3:08 pm

Ralph wrote:The demographics for The Daily Show indicate the viewership is well educated and those people read. Look at the ads - they know their audience.
Can't fight the research on those people, Ralph. Look at the Pew Survey. They are communications-savvy; they are not readers.

:shock: You ask me to watch the ads when I wouldn't give the show house room! :roll:
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Post by Lark Ascending » Sat Jun 03, 2006 3:31 pm

One of my favourite things to do, when visiting London, is to browse the shelves of the second hand bookshops situated on Charing Cross Road. I would hate to think that such places would eventually be rendered obsolete by so-called progress.
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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Jun 03, 2006 3:36 pm

Lark Ascending wrote:One of my favourite things to do, when visiting London, is to browse the shelves of the second hand bookshops situated on Charing Cross Road. I would hate to think that such places would eventually be rendered obsolete by so-called progress.
I can't imagine they would as long as Helen Hanff's excellent book and the movie based on it live. That book really made my book collecting take off. Once I knew there were tons of bookstores over there, I was constantly on the hunt thru a bookstore in New Jersey that linked up to bookstores there. I still do a small amount of business with English booksellers thru ABEBooks.com.
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Post by Haydnseek » Sat Jun 03, 2006 3:41 pm

Lark Ascending wrote:One of my favourite things to do, when visiting London, is to browse the shelves of the second hand bookshops situated on Charing Cross Road. I would hate to think that such places would eventually be rendered obsolete by so-called progress.
Exploring second hand bookshops is one of my favorite pastimes. Ever been to Hay-on-Wye in Wales, a village with something like 40 bookshops? I hope to get there one day.
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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Jun 03, 2006 3:59 pm

Haydnseek wrote:
Lark Ascending wrote:One of my favourite things to do, when visiting London, is to browse the shelves of the second hand bookshops situated on Charing Cross Road. I would hate to think that such places would eventually be rendered obsolete by so-called progress.
Exploring second hand bookshops is one of my favorite pastimes. Ever been to Hay-on-Wye in Wales, a village with something like 40 bookshops? I hope to get there one day.
Yes! My ambition too. I don't recall that any of my books have come from there, but when I go to Scotland, a side trip is in order.
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Post by Richard » Sat Jun 03, 2006 5:47 pm

The only bookstores in my area are either Barnes and Noble or Borders. I really miss the small, independent bookstore.
A while back, Ralph made mention of Powells, in Portland, Ore. I finally located it, last summer, in a trip to Portland. Besides being on-line, it is a fun place to visit. I was surprised at the size of the store, not as big as what I had been told. But they really make use of every square inch of space. Along with new books, they have a lot of used and out-of- print titles. Each catagory is "color-coded". For example, the mystery genre might be "orange". The room with mystery novels would have orange above the door, with the mystery section in orange. They have a few satellite stores in the area, as well.
If you are every in downtown Portland, Oregon, Powells is a must. I'll be up there, again, in a month, on the way to Canada on the train.

http://www.powells.com/

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Post by Ralph » Sat Jun 03, 2006 11:00 pm

I've been to Hay-on-Wye many years ago. It's a lot of fun. There's a huge book operation called Green Apple in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. They open about 6 times a year for a week or so. It's largely remaindered books but the largest stock I've ever seen.
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Post by Brendan » Sun Jun 04, 2006 12:48 am

I dream of having a Borders open up in this town. The small bookstores here all carry the same titles and lack volume, so Amazon gets my $.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Sun Jun 04, 2006 12:52 am

Brendan wrote:I dream of having a Borders open up in this town. The small bookstores here all carry the same titles and lack volume, so Amazon gets my $.
That was always my problem with Arlington bookstores before I discovered mail order from used stores. I could be surprised in used bookstores, but not in standard retail stores. I would have liked to have shopped in Arlington without worrying about parking meters like I had to in DC.
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Post by jbuck919 » Sun Jun 04, 2006 4:29 am

I have often read the observation that the mega bookstores have driven out the mom-and-pop shops, and I'm sure that as a general trend that is true. Is it a loss? Depends on your point of view. Of course, in Washington, DC, one of the most reading cities in the world, it doesn't make much difference because there is still room for Kramer's and Olson's and a number of other boutique bookstores. I would not expect the same to be true in, say, Kansas City, though anyone who lives there is welcome to contradict me. In Baltimore, a CD store called An die Musik still lives as a specialty shop for rare and nearly or actually out-of-print CDs. They are a shadow of a much larger operation that was put out of business by Borders, but they still sponsor musical soirees and are a going concern. When I left Columbia, it had both a Borders and a B&N, but no majore bookstore at the Mall. A local chain called Bibelot (excellent) was planning on moving in but then went out of business. So last I saw it the Mall in Columbia still have a Waldenbooks and a Daltons, both of them in this day and age useless.

As for the matter of used bookstores, I don't think about them very much. I've been to many back in the States but they are not much more than places where you can smell old book paper. If England has much more to offer, I'll keep an open mind, but speaking of Charing Cross Road, I doubt that I am likely to find an early edition Pepys Diary in this day and age for something like five dollars, let alone by mail order.

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Post by Ralph » Sun Jun 04, 2006 7:17 am

Corlyss_D wrote:
Brendan wrote:I dream of having a Borders open up in this town. The small bookstores here all carry the same titles and lack volume, so Amazon gets my $.
That was always my problem with Arlington bookstores before I discovered mail order from used stores. I could be surprised in used bookstores, but not in standard retail stores. I would have liked to have shopped in Arlington without worrying about parking meters like I had to in DC.
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Post by Haydnseek » Sun Jun 04, 2006 8:37 am

jbuck919 wrote:In Baltimore, a CD store called An die Musik still lives as a specialty shop for rare and nearly or actually out-of-print CDs. They are a shadow of a much larger operation that was put out of business by Borders, but they still sponsor musical soirees and are a going concern.
They are booking significant classical and jazz artists these days and have a busy concert schedule.
When I left Columbia, it had both a Borders and a B&N, but no majore bookstore at the Mall. A local chain called Bibelot (excellent) was planning on moving in but then went out of business. So last I saw it the Mall in Columbia still have a Waldenbooks and a Daltons, both of them in this day and age useless.
Daedalus Books and Music, a mail order and online overstock handler, has its warehouse in Columbia and there is a good shop there as well that is worth visiting. I go there every few weeks to see what's new.
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Post by jbuck919 » Sun Jun 04, 2006 8:55 am

Haydnseek wrote: Daedalus Books and Music, a mail order and online overstock handler, has its warehouse in Columbia and there is a good shop there as well that is worth visiting. I go there every few weeks to see what's new.
I've been there of course (it was on the way home from work) but it must have changed if it's as nice as you say. Their retail outlet was pretty minimal and I pretty much never went back. (For the newcomer it doesn't help that it is almost impossible to figure out the correct street to turn on to get there; from the road it looks like it is right there but it is very way down a meandering and obscure street in a building that is basically industrial.)

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Post by Ralph » Sun Jun 04, 2006 11:51 am

Haydnseek wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:In Baltimore, a CD store called An die Musik still lives as a specialty shop for rare and nearly or actually out-of-print CDs. They are a shadow of a much larger operation that was put out of business by Borders, but they still sponsor musical soirees and are a going concern.
They are booking significant classical and jazz artists these days and have a busy concert schedule.
When I left Columbia, it had both a Borders and a B&N, but no majore bookstore at the Mall. A local chain called Bibelot (excellent) was planning on moving in but then went out of business. So last I saw it the Mall in Columbia still have a Waldenbooks and a Daltons, both of them in this day and age useless.
Daedalus Books and Music, a mail order and online overstock handler, has its warehouse in Columbia and there is a good shop there as well that is worth visiting. I go there every few weeks to see what's new.
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I buy from their catalogues regularly. They have good deals on cutout classical CDs.
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Post by Lark Ascending » Sun Jun 04, 2006 12:31 pm

Haydnseek wrote:Exploring second hand bookshops is one of my favorite pastimes. Ever been to Hay-on-Wye in Wales, a village with something like 40 bookshops? I hope to get there one day.
I didn't know this. It sounds like just the place for a bookworm like me :)
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Post by Corlyss_D » Sun Jun 04, 2006 1:41 pm

My used book hang-out of choice after Loudermilks went out of business in the early 70s was Second Story Books on Connecticut Ave, and Book Ends and Book House in Arlington. In those days, Second Story really was ah Second Story - it was above a chi-chi organic food shop and restaurant. It was commanded by a little tow-headed guy who knew his stock up and down and inside out. He wasn't the owner, Alan Stypeck, who has become something of a cultural force with his radio show The Book Guys. As Second Story expanded, it became less interesting. It's main shop in Bethesda off Arlington Road was delightful - especially after the manager got permission from Stypeck to taylor the collection to the tastes of the clientel - a novel idea, don't you think? Their sales skyrocketed after that. The P Street store is just too small to be a good browse but there are many used bookstores in the Dupont Circle area, including Larry McMurtry's Booked Up in Georgetown. DC is indeed rich in used book stores.

Mr. Bookman McMurtry
Dean Schott

ARCHER CITY, Texas--This northern Texas crossroads is one booked- up town for a place with fewer than 1,900 residents. Five bookstores occupy space near the century-old stone courthouse, making the buying and selling of used and rare books the single biggest business in this one-stoplight town 25 miles south of Wichita Falls.

Four storefronts called Booked Up and designated Buildings No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 belong to Larry McMurtry, the award-winning author and native son who has said his aim is to amass 1 million books here. At 400,000 volumes, he has a way to go, but hasn't given up trying to turn this once book-barren community into a repository for the bound word.

Before McMurtry, 66, was a writer he was a book dealer, and before he was a dealer he was a hungry reader. (Critic Susan Sontag once called him one of the most widely read persons she knows.) These days McMurtry spends his early hours writing, middays "diddling at the bookstore" and evenings with one of the five or six books he is reading.

In his 1999 book Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, McMurtry recalls receiving a box of 19 books from a cousin heading off to fight in World War II. "These were the very first of the several hundred thousand books I have owned, as a reader and an antiquarian bookseller," he wrote. "I doubt that any gift has had a greater or more beneficial effect on my life."

His gift to readers and book scouts is his sprawling operation in this out-of-the-way location. A young female clerk, the only employee of three on duty this day at Booked Up, says McMurtry's books are not individually catalogued; they are arranged by general category. His most valuable treasures are in Building No. 1, some kept under lock and key; less memorable ones can be found in the most distant building, No. 4.

A single sheet with a pig logo at the top describes the general subjects and categories at each building. The logo was the symbol for the Blue Pig book store, which began here in 1986 and eventually became Booked Up. McMurtry's first Booked Up opened in 1971 in Washington, D.C., when he lived and wrote in nearby Virginia.

Booked Up Building No. 1 features rare, out-of-print and signed books and first editions. No. 2 contains galley proofs, fiction, children's literature and art. No. 3 offers 18th and 19th century books, classical studies, fiction before 1925, foreign books, translations and pamphlets. No. 4's listings include books about books, sports, television, film, culture, medicine and more.

The fifth storefront is the independent Three Dog Books, rented from McMurtry by an employee and her husband. This shop is between McMurtry's Booked Up No. 4 and the Royal Theater. A facade with marquee and a back wall are all that remain of the theater featured in McMurtry's 1961 novel, The Last Picture Show. Ten years later he received an Academy Award nomination and the New York Critic's award for best screenplay based on his book.

These recognitions are on display in Booked Up No. 1 below the Dr. Pepper award for fiction for McMurtry's Somebody's Darling, published in 1978. Hanging on the wall below these near the floor is a homemade rug featuring the likeness of a cat. No sign is evident of McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize for his western epic, Lonesome Dove, published in 1985.

The decorating motif in Booked Up No. 1, the operations center, is mid-1900s American attic with a modern touch--overstuffed leather chairs, two life-size wooden swan decoys resting beneath old tables and for-sale CDs by McMurtry's guitarist son, James McMurtry.

Overhead in this, the designated Show Case Room, stretches a blue and white banner picturing 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater with the words, "In your heart, you know he's right." The banner, which once hung in McMurtry's now closed Booked Up shop in Tucson, can be had for $2,500, says the novelist, who's mystified why it did not sell in the late senator's home state.

In a walled-off office, a lone clerk eats lunch at her desk between unpacking, sorting, stacking and helping customers find that special book in quarters once occupied by a car dealership. Cataloguing individual books by written record, bar code or computer lists is not a part of the Booked Up routine. Reliance on memory is.

A visitor asked for a hardbound edition of Johnny Got His Gun, written by screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, blacklisted in the Red- hunting 1950s, about the horrors of World War I as recalled by a bedridden soldier who's barely alive. Book magazine reported McMurtry's shop sold one first edition of the book for $150 a couple years ago.

"I remember seeing it over here," the clerk says approaching a bookshelf. Then she recalls that someone may have bought it recently. Then again, she's not sure. She and the visitor look, but do not find it. When the visitor asks about another book, Sometimes a Great Notion, by Merry Prankster Ken Kesey, the clerk directs the visitor to Booked Up No. 2 up and across the street. Other Kesey editions are there, but not Sometimes.

If you happened to visit the unlocked and unattended Buildings Nos. 2, 3 or 4 before No. 1, a notice on the glass doors advises: "We know that many customers drive goodly distances to get to our book store, and we will do what we can do minimize your disappointments." The notice directs visitors with questions to No. 1 or when closed, to a local phone number.

But if you've traveled to Archer City to buy a book by McMurtry or have it signed, disappointment does await. Another notice inside the front door in No. 1 advises, "We no longer sell books by Larry McMurtry. He's not signing books at this time."

Small wonder. During his more than 40 years of writing, he has penned more than 30 books, fiction and non-fiction, including Terms of Endearment and Texasville. That's a lot of books to autograph.

Inside all Booked Up buildings, floor-to-ceiling, white, wooden book cases stand 10 shelves high along the walls. Overhead wooden trusses from these shelves run to the shorter eight-shelf bookcases in the middle of the floor to steady the entire arrangement and prevent disaster. The decor is spartan, spacious and brightly lit by humming overhead fluorescent lights. Assorted old-time movie posters adorn the walls. Outside, the occasional tanker truck can be heard chugging away from the town's only traffic light.

Booked Up regulars know where to go without first asking questions, unlike some overwhelmed first-timers. A middle-aged man went directly to No. 4's sports section where he perused the golf books. He was later seen heading to No. 1 to pay for his purchases. Two sisters, who drove up from Dallas-Forth Worth for the day, visit No. 2 for fiction, searching for authors that suggest memories. They spend their time sharing books and memories on this, their fourth visit to Booked Up.

Prices are marked in pencil on the first page of each book. The flyer warns customers who want to purchase books that "all the satellite buildings will close at 4:45 p.m. If you have more than five books please bring them to the cashier in Building 1 by 4:30 p.m. The cashier closes at 5:00 p.m. promptly."

The soft economy has nearly muted the ring of the Booked Up cash register these days, McMurtry says. "The economy is bad, and it has hurt our flow over the last six-seven months. On Saturdays, we had 80- 85 sales. Now we get five if we're lucky. The dealers aren't traveling. They're broke. Everyone's hunkered down waiting for the uptick."

The books come to Archer faster than they leave and, McMurtry says, "That's the way it should be." In mid-January, McMurty returned to Archer City after a book-buying spree in Las Cruces, N.M., and Tucson, where he once owned a bookstore and where his friend and sometime co-author Diana Ossana lives. "I bought 15 boxes of books from five different stores," he said.

A few boxes sit scattered on the garage floor in the back of No. 1, emptied of their contents. With 600,000 books to go to reach his goal, McMurtry will be traveling more and figuring out how to grow his Archer City operations.

McMurtry rues the loss of America's big, urban booksellers, such as Loudermilks in Washington, D.C., Leary's in Philadelphia, Shorey's in Seattle and others. Within a quarter century, urban real estate prices, he once wrote, have decimated the stores the way hunters did the buffalo. In Archer City, he said, he can buy a store big enough for 100,000 books for the price of parking a car for one month in Beverly Hills.

"What I have in Archer City now is a kind of anthology of bookshops past--remnants of 22 shops now reside there, with, I hope many more to come. I still believe that books are the fuel of genius. Leaving a million or so in Archer City is as good a legacy as I can think of for that region and indeed for the West."

Dean Schott, a former Sun-Timesman and free-lance writer, lives in Glenview.

Copyright The Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.
http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/ ... 4700/print
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Post by Ralph » Sun Jun 04, 2006 1:54 pm

When I visit D.C. I always find a of of good bookstores to haunt.
D.C. also has a bookstore devoted solely to spying and intelligence.
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Post by Madame » Wed Jun 07, 2006 2:23 am

When Barnes & Noble first opened, I went crazy. I bought every book I had wanted to read, just to "have" them for "someday". Hundreds and hundreds of dollars. I would spend hours in the magazine racks, wonderful selections.

But then the newness wore off. I hated the long lines. I got frustrated when I asked for help and the employee pointed me to some far-off section where it "should" be.

And one day I walked in and said, this is just too damned big, and I started breaking out in a cold sweat, just like I did in K-Mart years ago, and I couldn't wait to get out of there. I literally had the shakes by the time I left.

So I went on line and spent even more money, it was SO convenient.

Now I usually buy books as gifts, because I have a library card and online access to my local library, which carries nearly everything I want. (Just hate the return deadline).

I love the used book network like abebooks.com and alibris.com, I've found some treasures.

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Post by Madame » Wed Jun 07, 2006 2:35 am

Corlyss_D wrote:
Ralph wrote:The demographics for The Daily Show indicate the viewership is well educated and those people read. Look at the ads - they know their audience.
:shock: You ask me to watch the ads when I wouldn't give the show house room! :roll:
Oh yes, we watch the news first -- and then turn to "The Daily Show" to have fun mocking some of the ridiculous! Good irreverent humor, keeps things in perspective. And everybody's fair game.

Bill Bennett was on tonight, the repartee between him and Jon Stewart was great. I love ending my day laughing.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Wed Jun 07, 2006 2:44 am

Madame wrote:Good irreverent humor, keeps things in perspective.
I've tried watching the show several times, but I don't think Stewart or the show is funny. Laugh-in it's not. Like Monty Python, it just doesn't make me laugh.
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Post by Madame » Wed Jun 07, 2006 2:49 am

Corlyss_D wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:Just as long as they never close the Amazon.com bookstore in... say, where is it, anyway?
In the animist Northwest;

ExCUSE me? :)
animism
the doctrine that all natural objects and the universe itself have souls; "animism is common among primitive peoples"



specifically, Seattle, Wash.


Cool, I didn't know exactly where it was located. I met a young woman who works there, and I asked what she did. Her answer: "I solve problems". Loved it!

Agree, it is a great way to find used items (some of which are actually new!)

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Post by Madame » Wed Jun 07, 2006 3:00 am

Corlyss_D wrote:

I've tried watching the show several times, but I don't think Stewart or the show is funny. Laugh-in it's not. Like Monty Python, it just doesn't make me laugh.
<so, you returned the book? :) >

I understand what you are saying, humor is a personal thing, there's some stuff masquerading as comedy that leaves me flat.

I like parts of the Blue Collar Comedy show, especially Ron White, but you can have Larry the Cable Guy, I've met people like him and they aren't one bit funny in real life!

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Post by Corlyss_D » Wed Jun 07, 2006 3:12 am

Madame wrote:<so, you returned the book? :) >
Yes! I've been meaning to tell you in one of our calls since January. Here's what you really gave me: :D

link
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Post by Ralph » Wed Jun 07, 2006 8:22 am

Corlyss_D wrote:
Madame wrote:Good irreverent humor, keeps things in perspective.
I've tried watching the show several times, but I don't think Stewart or the show is funny. Laugh-in it's not. Like Monty Python, it just doesn't make me laugh.
*****

The show is uneven but it often hits the mark, deflating the pompous and making asses out of...asses.
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Post by Corlyss_D » Wed Jun 07, 2006 3:06 pm

Ralph wrote:The show is uneven but it often hits the mark, deflating the pompous and making asses out of...asses.
Some concessions must be made to the shortness of human life. I get impatient waiting for them to be funny and either turn off the TV or look for a forensics program.
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Post by Madame » Thu Jun 08, 2006 3:50 am

Corlyss_D wrote:
Madame wrote:<so, you returned the book? :) >
Yes! I've been meaning to tell you in one of our calls since January. Here's what you really gave me: :D
I'm glad you chose what you really wanted! You like those young guys who live on the edge? ;)

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Post by Madame » Thu Jun 08, 2006 3:54 am

Corlyss_D wrote:
Some concessions must be made to the shortness of human life.
And yet ... you'll sit through an entire Raptors game? :lol:

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Post by Corlyss_D » Thu Jun 08, 2006 3:34 pm

Madame wrote:
Corlyss_D wrote:
Madame wrote:<so, you returned the book? :) >
Yes! I've been meaning to tell you in one of our calls since January. Here's what you really gave me: :D
I'm glad you chose what you really wanted! You like those young guys who live on the edge? ;)
Yeah. One of the best books ever is Charles Nicholl's The Reckoning, about Marlowe's involvement in the very dangerous business of spying for the Catholics in twitchy England during Elizabeth's reign. He was mixed up in occult practices, alchemy, etc., as well. Just a damn shame he didn't look like Mr. Olitan.

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Post by Madame » Fri Jun 09, 2006 7:32 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:
Yeah. One of the best books ever is Charles Nicholl's The Reckoning, about Marlowe's involvement in the very dangerous business of spying for the Catholics in twitchy England during Elizabeth's reign. He was mixed up in occult practices, alchemy, etc., as well. Just a damn shame he didn't look like Mr. Olitan.

Image
My oh my. I had to find out who this guy was. You buy the FDNY "hunk" calendars, do you?

What is there about the word "reckoning"? I have seen it in dozens of book titles. The first one I read was "The Reckoning" by David Halberstam, ccompelling parallel accounts of Ford and Nissan.

Before that it was simply Grandma's answer to a question -- "I reckon!" ;)

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Post by Corlyss_D » Fri Jun 09, 2006 8:35 pm

Madame wrote:
Corlyss_D wrote:In the animist Northwest;
ExCUSE me? :)
animism
the doctrine that all natural objects and the universe itself have souls; "animism is common among primitive peoples"
Would you prefer "godless" :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

I didn't invent either term. Robert D. Kaplan in his In Depth on C-SPAN last year, describing the two very distinct civilizations on the west coast, described the strip of Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia as "animist" for their notorious obsession with spotted owls and other feckless environmental trivialities.

Atlantic Monthly back in 2004 in one of their Agenda segments called The Nation by Numbers reported a survey of the predominant religious dispositions of sections of the US. They labeled the same area that Kaplan discussed as "The Godless Northwest." I am still laughing about both characterizations.
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Post by Corlyss_D » Fri Jun 09, 2006 8:45 pm

Madame wrote:My oh my. I had to find out who this guy was. You buy the FDNY "hunk" calendars, do you?
Believe you me, I'm certainly thinking about it. 8) Ralph certainly perked up my week!
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Post by Ralph » Fri Jun 09, 2006 10:14 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:
Madame wrote:My oh my. I had to find out who this guy was. You buy the FDNY "hunk" calendars, do you?
Believe you me, I'm certainly thinking about it. 8) Ralph certainly perked up my week!
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A true pleasure!!!
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