In my town, an excellent children’s bookstore, Adventures for Kids, has gone out of business. Having brought my first grade students there on field trips, then taken my own three children, and also worked there myself, I am grieving its demise.
Reluctant readers would come into the store, dragged by a parent, and leave with a book like Chocolate Fever and be back the next week for another “like that one”. Kids were able to find books on slugs or the Amish, or a biography of Levi Strauss for reports for school. The staff loved to read, and loved to make sure children had just the right book that would inspire them. Books weren’t widgets to be sold at a profit, but dearly-loved treasures to be shared with special people.
My children grew up going to the Tuesday story time where they got to sit in a wooden boat and hear stories read out loud and sing Raffi songs. When Kelly taught herself to read at age three, Jodi, the proprietor, was one of the few people who encouraged her, instead of lecturing me about how I was pushing her too hard. Jodi encouraged the staff to read, and I had a clear bin I brought home filled with new treasures to read the girls when I worked there.
And the authors we had visit the store! The store was a little wild when we had Maurice Sendak. We had a big tea party with real china for Madeline L’Engle who signed her books with special messages like “tesser well”. Once, a publisher called to ask if we would host Brian “Jakes”. We said “yes”, and hung up the phone to research who he was. OHHHH! Brian Jacques! The line was out the door and down the street as he signed his Redwall series. We had J.K. Rowling when she had published the first Harry Potter book. Every time an author came I swore I would only buy one or two books. Then she would come and tell about why and how she wrote the book, and I fell in love and bought all of them.
There’s a Borders in every medium-sized town in America. And an Old Navy and an Applebees and a Best Buy and a Blockbuster. But there are fewer and fewer independent businesses, and these add richness and distinctiveness to a city. Every place is starting to look the same, even overseas. In Istanbul there are sixty Starbucks. Where’s the individuality? I was working at Adventures for Kids when Barnes and Noble came to my town. People would come in to ask us for great recommendations for books for their kids, and then buy it at the chain store because it was cheaper. The big store bought in huge quantities, so they could make deals with the publishers that weren’t offered to the independent booksellers.
We have lost a true treasure, and my town is a little poorer for it. Excuse me while I go off to a corner with a box of tissues and The Baby Blue Cat who said “No”.