Saturday, November 9, 2013

Breaking Up With Bookstores Hurts

It’s been nearly two years since Borders shuttered itself, unable to survive the dual onslaught of a punishing recession and dramatic changes with e-books and tablets. Seemingly overnight, a powerhouse in the publishing industry and retail world was gone.

Some thought or hoped that with Borders’ passing, Barnes & Noble would be able to survive, maybe even thrive. But once the giant book chain was rid of its main competitor of the 1990’s and 2000’s, it found itself falling further behind its biggest rival of the present: Amazon. Imagine the US defeats Russia in a war, only to then be placed in a position to have to fight China. For B&N, the battle with digital books overall, and Amazon’s retail prowess, is turning into its own Vietnam. It’s unwinnable.

When’s the last time you saw a new B&N open up? They are downsizing stores in the coming years. It believes it needs to shrink in order to remain in business. It has already closed some stores in the last few years, even in very literate and consumer-friendly cities like New York.

There once was a huge B&N -- five floors high -- by Lincoln Center on 65th and Broadway. It closed a few years ago. It pains me to walk by that street corner and see its replacement all lit up. I’d take a bookstore over another clothing store anytime.

By my office there used to be a cavernous Borders, on 57th and Park Avenue. By my home in Westchester there used to be a Borders. Both spaces are still empty and void of any literary life. I feel sadness when I walk by their vacant grounds, reflecting on what used to be, lamenting on what could have been.

The wound is still open. When a bookstore closes it feels like I lost a girlfriend or broke up with someone. I don’t feel that way with any other industry or brand, though if a Starbucks ever closed I’d cry my tall skim mocha eyes caffeine dry.

Perhaps the closest I feel about being around book graveyards is when I am by closed up movie theaters. I recall every neighborhood theatre that went dark -- The Oceana, the Midwood, the Avalon, Kingsway -- all in my youth-filled hometown of Brooklyn. They got replaced by banks, drug stores, and shlockholes.

Bookstores are holy to me. They hold such strong memories and feelings. They offer the world’s voices and give refuge to so many people. The stacks of books shield us from the realities of the world by providing us with new ideas, empowering facts, or diversionary fantasies. When is a bookstore closing ever a good thing for a neighborhood?

The cleansing of bookstores from our streets is not at all complete, but it’s in motion. You can feel it in the air. There will come a day where bookstores are more like novelty shops, cast aside as a hobby or a more remnant of a bygone era. It’ll take historians and museums to explain what books used to be and how bookstores were once society’s glue.

I still mourn for the days when bookstores ruled the land. I mourn for the future that is destined to be.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2013

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