Lately I’ve been reading articles that will either exalt Amazon as the wonder bookstore, meanwhile demonizing the small independent bookseller), or the exact opposite. It made me wonder, just when did Book Class Warfare begin and… why?
Don’t get me wrong. As a small business owner myself, I know what it’s like to drive down the street and see a national chain’s truck in front of a former customer’s home (what’s worse is seeing that same truck at a current customer’s home), but I also know that this is a part of free enterprise – as sour as it is at times to take. Which is why I try to use my disposable income (however much that might be by the end of the month) to make an impact on local businesses – even if it is at the neighborhood thrift store or flea market.
No, I’m not some modern day David championing all small business owners against the evil corporations, although there are times I wish someone would. I’m just a person who likes to be able to walk into a store or restaurant and see a friendly face. Okay, let’s not confuse this concept. I don’t want to walk into a building and be greeted by the hostess of the week who’s paid to smile and make nice. I want to walk into a restaurant and as soon as I clear the doors I hear a familiar voice call out, “Be right with you. Only two tonight… where’re the kids?” See? Already I’m feeling more at ease. I know that voice belongs to someone who cares. I know that if I need to post a Missing Person poster, for example, they’re the first ones to pull out the tape (sadly, we’ve had to do that).
The same goes with my bookstores. I used to frequent Borders and honestly, if they were still open in my town, I still would. Why, you ask, they’re a large chain out to get the little man! Well, okay, I guess you could argue that point. Here’s mine though. I’ve walked into Borders wearing dirty torn up Carhartt coveralls, and work boots, having the worst day ever and suddenly, there’s someone greeting me (no, not escorting me) and asking if I need help finding anything. Of course, at that point I’d laugh, because I’d been there so often, I could have probably told them where things were. Now, take that same scenario and switch it to Barnes and Noble; definitely not the same experience. In fact, B&N makes me down right uncomfortable. Where Borders would have quirky, interesting people just waiting to find out more about you, the other just doesn’t seem to care – as long as you have cash, or your card clears, then it’s all good.
What does that have to do with independent bookstores? Well, that’s easy. I never equated Borders as a big conglomerate. Really… I didn’t! The employees treated everyone the same, as if each person was a friend they hadn’t been formally introduced to yet. I’ve walked into my local indie bookstores and have mixed feelings. One store, I won’t say which, often looks at people with mistrust until (I’m assuming) they get to know you. Another though is more than happy you’re there whether you’ve been there once or a thousand times, unfortunately that’s the one that is so far out of my way I hardly frequent it. Now, which one would you choose? Uh, yeah… the ones that treat you with kindness and respect.
So, where does Amazon fit in? Oh boy, I’m going to get lynched for this one. Quick, easy or, dare I say, free! I won’t lie, I have an Amazon account. My books are available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle and yes, I’ve been known to order through the website for either books, toys or tools. It’s often times cheaper than if I went running all over town trying to find that one item. Last winter our flimsy snow cables broke while we were the furthest point from home that day and had to ease our way back, all the while I was one the phone all over town trying to find a replacement, any type of replacement, so we could continue working. Needless to say, no one in town had any, it was too late to put studs on the tires, and yeah… we were well and totally screwed. Enter Amazon. They had what we needed, at a price we could live with and if it wasn’t for the fact that an unexpected change in the jet stream was occurring, you bet I would have ordered the damn things right there on the spot… big money hungry corporation or not! However, I’m usually able to restrain myself and will search high and low for something before I resort to buying online… mainly because I have a patience issue. If I want it, it usually means I either need it right then or am in the middle of a thought process and can’t wait for that book or reference source even for two days.
So, with everything considered, I have to wonder why we can’t get along. Each type has its own merits. Amazon is quick, easy and often cheaper (we won’t discuss that since that would lead me to the Wal-Mart argument). Big Chains are instant, with a huge selection and a person attached to ask questions if needed. Independent bookstores offer personalized service (let’s see a big chain tell you when a particular item you’re about to buy is going on sale), often will support local artists and will help with suggestions if you just happen to be in the mood for… well… something!
To me, the whole argument is rather juvenile. Big business vs. small business is something that has been around for eons and I don’t see where that will really be resolved anytime soon. As long as we have the need to converge with like-minded people, share experiences and ideas, I don’t think small booksellers have anything to worry about. Likewise with big chains or internet resellers who offer convenience and instant gratification. Now, if someone could just fill in the rest of the population, we’d all be ahead of the game. Until then, I’ll continue dreaming of the day I’ll own a small bookstore called “Whimsical… Somethings” preferably located in a small town on Main Street… a little corner brownstone wouldn’t hurt for a location either.