Matthew Cheney killed a bookstore in Reno, just to watch it die.

Matthew Cheney stands on a dusty street at high noon and sends that bookstore straight to Hell.  not_matt_cheney

I can relate, to some degree, Matt’s predicament – no independent bookstores within a manageable drive, computer at hand, click-click, there it is in the mailbox.  I’m fortunate enough to have a few good stores less than an hour’s drive away, and yet still use the internet to buy a lot of my books.  However, it’s Powell’s Books, every time.  

I should be ordering through the local stores’ websites.  Why don’t I?  Various inadequate reasons – I get free shipping through Powell’s, I don’t have to make a trip into the city to pick up the book, I think somehow that throwing in with a “bigger” independent bookstore (but not too big) is going to keep them going when the smaller fish get swallowed.  The shame, it radiates all through my abdomen.  

The thing is, though, that Matt and I aren’t the common book buyer – we’ve come to this point through years of exposure to smaller presses, lesser-known authors, and the internet calling attention to books that might otherwise slip beneath the waves without a sound.  And independent bookstores:

When I was in the NY metro area, I tended to shop at independent bookstores when I bought new books —St. Mark’sShakespeare & Co, and McNally Robinson (now McNally Jackson) were my favorites. I shopped there because I would find things at those stores that I wouldn’t have known about if I hadn’t gone in. I use the internet to buy books I already know about; I use bookstores to make discoveries.

Exactly – these smaller bookstores have people like this, who breathe books.  They love what the love and they push those books on people who come in looking for a book to love.  At Borders, you get books pushed on you by Stu Crappenbock (not his/her actual name), who is more concerned about the bottom line than about finding great new books.  Stu’s going to keep feeding you cotton candy, because he knows that you’ll keep eating it.  After all, everyone else is.  I could go to Borders and come out with Report on Myself – but that’s because I know about it through the internet and my book-loving friends, because books are my crack pipe.  Most people don’t stare at the computer screen, waiting for it to reveal a new book to love.  Most people rely on the bookstore.  And Borders is going to be shoving vampire books down your throat long after you’re stuffed – until the next “big thing” comes along.  

This is kind of rambling, but I suppose the point here is that I, and you, and your friends, we should keep in mind that we’re uniquely positioned to find out about books and do something to bring them to the attention of others.  And we can do that by supporting the smaller bookstores – while they’re still around – that are positioned to introduce these books to the general population.  

So – market forces, the better bookstores win, etc., but do it for the readers!  Do it for the authors.  Homogeneity sucks.


3 Replies to “Matthew Cheney killed a bookstore in Reno, just to watch it die.”

  1. Don’t be so hard on yourself and Matt. It’s okay to order a book online; infact – you can log on to your “local” bookstore website and let them get the benefit of your order. No shame in that. You don’t have to use Amazon all the time.

    Visit the independent bookstore for its atmosphere, its focus on special topics, such as nautical, juvenile, whatever. Visit the local bookstore as part of a “destination” event. Make a day of it, once a month. Do a one-day local bookstore tour. Plan it online, set some personal goals for each store and make the drive. How about every two months? This would go a long way to saving the local independent bookstore.

    For a visit to New England, get some planning ideas at I hope you feel better now.

  2. I’d suggest, too, that if there is something that an independent store can do to earn or keep your business, you start a respectful dialogue and let them know. Most indie stores are short-staffed and the owners and booksellers frantically try to keep everything going. Often they don’t have the time to think about why customers are shopping at national online bookstores. It’s not always about price, and in fact, the assumption that Amazon will always be cheaper is incorrect. If your store doesn’t offer shipping through their website, and that’s what you need, tell them. Maybe it’s something they never thought their customers would want. The same for in-store pickup. Do you want them to store your credit card and have one-click ordering? That’s a tougher thing to implement, but if that’s the only thing that’s stopping you from giving them your business, they deserve to know that.

    One of the beautiful things about indie bookstores is that you can talk to a human being who can handle problems and make decisions, face to face or on the phone. I know most would welcome input from their customers and prospective customers.

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