Butchers and bakers and candlestick makers. And booksellers.

I read an interesting post about efforts in France to protect independent bookstores.  And as much as I want to applaud, because I mourn the loss of independent neighborhood bookstores and want to like any efforts to protect them, I find that I can’t.  It began with legislation that made it illegal In France to discount a book by more than 5% off its retail price.  The idea, apparently, was to prevent the large chain stores from cutting prices to a point where the indie bookstores would be unable to compete.  And now, with the success of amazon, the French legislature has made it illegal to offer free shipping on the purchase of books.   And somehow it all just feels wrong to me.

I do not pretend to have intimate knowledge of French shopping habits, so I find myself looking at the issue from an American perspective.  I mourn the loss of indie bookstores, but also indie hardware stores, indie grocers (indie butchers and bakers and candlestick makers).  I mourn the shift from neighborhood shops on Main Street in favor of shopping malls and superstores and now internet marketplaces.  But the change has been happening for nearly seventy years and it is not a simple matter of retail price or  shipping costs.  It is the result of shifting demographics about where people live, about how people shop, about highways and automobiles, about cities and suburbs.  There is a reason why we promote Small Business Saturday, why we need to promote Small Business Saturday. 

I have no animus for Home Depot, but I miss the neighborhood hardware store.  I miss the indie bookstores that have already closed.  I hope that the remaining neighborhood bookstores survive.  Actually, I hope they do more than survive; I hope they thrive.  But preventing their competitors from offering customers a better deal doesn’t feel right to me.  And to be honest, I don’t think it will work.  Because the considerations are as much sociological as economic. 


8 thoughts on “Butchers and bakers and candlestick makers. And booksellers.

  1. My dear wife has said from the start of home P.C.s, that they will severely harm personal relationships between people. She likes mom and pop kind of stores. I have heard that 20% of all books are read on tablets now. It will only increase in use.


  2. I agree with what you said here. Great post!
    I support the locally owned bookstores, stores, restaurants, etc. I always have. So many have closed, too many. It’s sad.
    PS…recently in your post on lessons learned you mentioned porch-sitting…I think people need to get back to sitting on their porches with neighbors, family, and friends and having conversations and laughing together.


  3. People have to be WILLING to engage small businesses again. There are many of us who do so. I seldom go to WalMart and shop mainly small grocers and the local TruValue. We have an indie bookstore here in Prescott, which opened BECAUSE the Barnes & Noble here closed. It’s doing fine and has a full stock of e-readers, as well as the latest books and magazines, at competitive prices. As for the Nanny State solution, I agree with the commenter who predicts it will backfire.


  4. When I was in college, Lawrence, KS had two bookstores (besides those affiliated with the KU campus): Adventure A Bookstore, which was a thriving large downtown store with new books and magazines; and J Hood Booksellers, which sold used books a few blocks from the edge of campus. I loved J Hood Booksellers especially. The walls were all lined from floor to ceiling with used books, and there was a weird loft at the back with more books upstairs.

    My brother’s daughter was married a few years ago to someone from the Adventure A Bookstore family. At the wedding, the groom’s mom told me they had recently closed the bookstore and were doing online sales.

    I drove through Lawrence in 2010 and saw no sign of J Hood. When I checked on line, I saw that they had moved to Baldwin, KS and were selling textbooks.

    There is now a Half Price Books in Lawrence. It’s a good chain of used bookstores, but they don’t have the same feel of the crowded little store at 14th and Massachusetts where bearded J Hood used to sit reading behind the counter in the very middle of the floor.


  5. I can’t remember the last time I was in a bookstore, small or otherwise. I’ve been trying not to clutter up my bookshelves any further (they’re already overflowing, and I’d like not to buy more). Despite how much I read as a child, I don’t recall spending much time in bookstores. I got my fix from the library.

    At some point in college, after racking up umpteen million dollars in fines I was too lazy to pay (not really that much, but yes to the laziness), I started visiting bookstores, and then needing to buy bookshelves, and then I bought a Kindle to try to stop that problem. Recently (after moving to a new town) I rediscovered the library. Really is a great place. 🙂

    With regard to France’s policy, however, well, there’s something to be said for little bookshops, but there’s also something to be said for the convenience of home delivery in that it does not require one to leave one’s home (and potentially require one to drive some distance to reach those little bookshops, now that they are rarer).


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