I was in Houston this past weekend for a friend's wedding, and as I'm inclined to do when in a new city, I found a cool-looking local independent bookstore. As colorful and cheerful as Brazos Bookstore appeared when I first walked in, after spending a few minutes browsing, I realized it was pretty representative of most small, independent bookstores I've visited lately — the fiction selection was pretty tiny, new release hard covers were priced in full, and for most of the time I was there, despite the fact that the store is located in a busy strip mall, I was the ONLY one there.
I absolutely love small independent and/or used bookstores, and so I think the fact that they're being squeezed out is one of the saddest ongoing trends in the book industry. Here's how significant the decline is: As of October of last year, the American Booksellers Association is down to about 1,500 members from 4,000 stores 15 years ago. On a more micro scale, last year my beloved Harry W. Schwartz franchise closed its doors after 82 years of business in Milwaukee. That was an absolute gut-punch.
Look, I know this post isn't exactly a revelation. You're all likely familiar with the reasons why independent bookstores are going out of business at approximately the same rate as banks. And it's even more likely that I'm preaching to the choir here. But this is just something I've been thinking about with a tad more immediacy the last few days after the trip to Brazos. It's a worthwhile reminder that if you haven't set foot in your local store in awhile, or if you're traveling in another city, why not pop into the mom-and-pop-shop on the corner and buy something?
After all, what better souvenir is there than a book?! I love looking over my shelf and remembering that, for instance, I purchased Zeitoun at Skylight Books in Los Angeles, or Everything Matters! at Brazos Bookstore in Houston, or The Historian at Schwartz in Milwaukee. (RIP Schwartz!)
Have you made similar souvenir book purchases at independent bookstores? What and where? Also, do you think these independent stores have a future? Why or why not?