Farewell to an Old Friend

Village Bookshop.jpgI visited the Village Bookshop the other day. It has been one of my favorite haunts during the 28 years we’ve lived on the northwest side of Columbus. Located within ten minutes of our home at 2432 Dublin Granville Rd in an old, white-sided church building, this has been one of my favorite bookstores. For nearly 50 years, the Village Bookshop, which occupies the old Linworth Methodist Church building, has served locals and visiting bookbuyers alike. I picked up my Dumas Malone’s five volume biography of Jefferson here many years ago. Recently, I read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, John Steinbeck’s Cannery Road, and C.S. Lewis’s The Personal Heresy. All of them came from  the Village Bookshop.

And now it is closing.

Owner Gary Friedlinghaus and his wife Carol, who took over the store 37 years ago, told the Columbus Dispatchthat changes in the public’s book-buying habits and a declining supplier base has made the decision necessary. He describes his decision as a “judicious retreat.”

There was no place quite like it. At one time, the store had an inventory of as many as four million books, nearly all new, and apart from some old and rare books, discounted 60 to 90 percent. The store was known for its selection of military prints and books. As a bit of a Civil War buff, I found more than a few good books there, as well as many other finds in their history section. They had a great selection of paperback classics, many for under $4, often older versions of Oxford Classics. My latest acquisition in this section was Faulkner’s The Reivers. The biographies table toward the front of the store was always a stop, as was a featured selection of books toward the middle of the store. I often stopped at the religion section just to the left of the featured books and before the passage to the back annex. Just through that passage was a four-sided set of shelves with books under $2, mostly old paperbacks. I made a few finds here over the years! Fiction occupied most of the back of the store on the ground floor. On my most recent visit, I picked up novels by Chaim Potok and Sharon Kay Penman that I haven’t read.

The upstairs was a world to itself, in the back annex of the building. One half seemed to be overflow from downstairs–more history, sociology, and fiction, including science fiction and fantasy. The other half was old books. Some were plainly there on consignment. On a recent visit, I happened into the fiction section when a customer was loading up an old set of Sir Walter Scott novels. A part of me wished I’d gotten there first (but where would I put them?).

Lori, daughter of the owner indicated that the building might be preserved and occupied by a different kind of business instead of being converted to apartments, like much of the area across the street. It is a historic building, built in 1887, for what was then Bright’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church. One hopes this will be the case.

The store will close its doors for the last time on August 31. When we were there, books were being discounted 20 percent off their already discounted prices. You could see the shelves were thinned a bit, but there was still a great selection of books. I might be back another time or two–but maybe not, and so it was time for this tribute of sorts.

Earlier this year, another favorite haunt, Acorn Books in Grandview closed. It is hard to see these independents going. It is sobering to realize that the number of those like me who not only love books, but the serendipitous fun of finding something you weren’t looking for on the shelves of a bookstore, seems to be dwindling. Book culture seems to be in the process of being stripped down to searching for the book we want online, ordering or downloading it, and reading and deleting it, if we read at all. For the sake of speed and convenience, we are sacrificing a richly textured culture with unique places like Village Bookshop to homogenized chains and online sites–and not only with regard to books. Will we wake up one day to realize that our local towns and villages have become banal and boring places–just like everywhere else? Or will it matter?

 

Bookshop Chalkboards

Chalkboard from Gramercy Books, Bexley, Ohio, April 2017

The March 21, 2018 issue of Shelf Awareness includes a short article with picture of a Bookshop Chalkboard of the Day. I hadn’t really paid attention to this aspect of bookselling before but it caught my attention.

One sees these chalkboards in many establishments from restaurants and brew pubs to coffeeshops. Perhaps a common element is that all these are “third place” gathering places and the signs create the vibe that this is a unique space, friendly, one-of-a-kind that is never the same from one day or week to the next. The signs post menus, the current craft beer on tap, upcoming events, or just a fun or thought-provoking saying. Actually the goal is to provoke interest in the business. In a high-tech world, this is low tech–and something you might have seen in a store a hundred years ago.

One thing all these signs seem to have in common–lettering skills, embellishments, and color. As far as I know, there is no vendor who makes these up. There must be a lot of local talent. I found this article with “10 Chalkboard Tips and Tricks” if you are curious how this is done. Some people do decorates their homes with at least one chalkboard. This site has ideas, and a Pinterest board of examples for businesses.

Of course, the big idea in bookselling is to know and serve your customers in an inviting environment. Chalkboards would not seem crucial. But they can be a fun and ever changing touch.

I’d love to see other examples of creative bookshop chalkboards!

Bookstore Review: The Bookstore at University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary

For over twenty years, I have been coming to the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary for national conferences of the collegiate ministry with which I work. The campus is in a wooded setting on a lake in the northern suburbs of Chicago with gorgeous buildings that are a combination of Renaissance Roman and American Colonial Revival architecture. I’ve enjoyed many walks, leisurely conversations with colleagues, and rich learning experiences.

This year, I discovered one more reason to look forward to visiting. They have a new Bookstore. I learned that there had always been a bookstore in the basement of an academic building, primarily used by seminarians. Over the last couple years, the campus has completed a major renovation of its’ Refectory, renaming it Mundelein Hall after the Chicago archbishop responsible for the development of the university. Just to the left of the new front entrance, occupying one corner of the building is the new bookstore.

The store is tailored to serve the seminarians preparing for the Roman Catholic priesthood and students in other programs, prospective students, and other guests and retreatants to the campus. Unlike some religious bookstores, I found an extensive selection of works on theology, catechesis (instruction in the faith), church history, biblical studies philosophy, Christian classics, social justice, liturgy, pastoral care, and spiritual formation. Many are from a Catholic perspective, where much fine scholarship and writing is being done and that one might not come across elsewhere. There is also an extensive selection of texts in Spanish.

Like other college bookstores there are a variety of gift items including mugs, clothing, bags, and other items with the college logo. There is also a small selection of musical CDs and devotional items and what I understand is a favored blend of coffee that the students enjoy.

At this point, the store online provides online ordering of textbooks for seminarians, often paid for through vouchers from their sending diocese. The store mentioned they were working on online capabilities for other customers, so check back.

The Bookstore’s current hours and contact information are:

Monday – Friday: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Sunday: Closed

For more information, call 847-970-4901

Since the store is located on the campus grounds, outside visitors should observe speed limits on campus roads, park in designated areas, and respect the atmosphere of quiet and reflection on campus.

Blue Jacket Books Moving in a Different Direction

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Lawrence Hammar, co-owner of Blue Jacket Books, in one of the many rooms of books in his store.

I saw a post the other day that reflects the challenges of bookselling, particularly if you are based in a small town.

“There are big changes afoot at and in and with Blue Jacket Books about which I wish to inform you. How’s that for a bracing opening?

I’m excited about the future, I am, don’t think that I’m not, but I am forced to go in a different direction so as to make a living.

Here’s why: I love selling retail, I love being your hometown, independent bookseller, but in terms of in-store sales (not on-line, that is), the bookstore operates at a net loss. Very few Xenians buy books here. Sales in-store have for a long time been flat, slow, maybe even declining. The terrible truth is that, the better has the bookstore become, the better the books, the larger the number thereof, the better the organization, etc., the worse have become the in-store sales. Compliments are up, our reputation improves by the day, the oohs and aahs become more vocal, we get Facebook “likes” by the cart-load, but yet very few people actually buy the danged books, especially not from Xenia. Our customers from Xenia are loyal, don’t get me wrong, but they are not many.

We’re doing okay on-line, we’re doing okay with direct orders, too, but I can’t keep working 80 hours a week so as to lose money in-store. We love the building, we love being in Xenia, we get along great with our building occupants and fellow small-business people, but again, few of our customers are from Xenia. $81 Saturdays and $123 First Fridays and the occasional $0 days have left permanent dents in my psyche. I don’t expect the political-economy or the socio-demography of Xenia to change, so I must try something else.

I’ve therefore decided to move in a different direction.”

I had a delightful visit a couple years ago to Blue Jacket Books in Xenia, which is about a 45 minute or so drive from Columbus. I wrote about it here. We had a delightful time with the owner, came away with an armload of books, and intentions of coming back some time. I have to admit wondering how such a wonderful place could make it in a small town.

I have another friend I’ve met online who also puts in long weeks, sells books at conferences, promotes the store online, and barely scrapes by. He knows books and, at the drop of a hat, can probably make ten good recommendations on any subject, after getting to know you. I much prefer that kind of attention to an algorithm, but perhaps I’m in a minority. That big online bookseller makes getting books quick and easy for those who still read. And like the store in Xenia, direct and online sales rather than in-store sales enable him to stay afloat.

So I can see how the move online makes sense for the folks at Blue Jacket. They can probably do better business in fewer hours (an many people who run stores like this are at the stage of life where they want to go slower). The store definitely appeals to a literate crowd. If Xenia, a town of just over 25,000 and the county seat of Greene Country, were a college town, it might sustain a store like this. Nevertheless, I can see how the loss of the store decreases the mix of stores and the richness of its cultural life. I don’t know the answer to this, aside from a broad cultural change in reading habits and habits of mind.

For now, the store is “purging” their inventory, at least through the end of July according to their Facebook page. In a Dayton Daily News story, it sounds like they are trying to sell off 30,000 of the 50,000 books in their inventory to focus on selling Civil War, Americana, academic works and fine art via direct and online sales. Blue Jacket Books is located at 30 S. Detroit Street, Xenia, OH 45385 and their phone is 937-376-3522, if you want to pick up a great bargain during their “purge.” I assume their website will remain the access point for their online business. But the loss of this good place with its various rooms of books on different topics is one more marker on the road to what I think a less intellectually rich and interesting society. But thanks, Lawrence Hammar and Cassandra Lee for making it such a good place for the past ten years. I wish you well as you take Blue Jacket in a different direction!

Visit Your Favorite Indie Bookstore This Saturday!

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The delightful children’s section at Gramercy Books, an independent bookseller in Bexley, Ohio.

This Saturday, April 29, would be a good day to visit your favorite independent bookstore. It is Independent Bookstore Day in the U.S. and at least 458 stores are participating according to Publishers Weekly.

Just to go on record, in case you haven’t noticed, I am a HUGE fan of indie bookstores–whether they are retail or re-sale. It’s not just that I like bookstores, but there are several things I especially like about independent booksellers. One is that they contribute to the fabric and cultural richness of our communities. Two is that they contribute to the relational richness of our communities. Independent booksellers livelihood depends on knowing their customers. I’ve been in some stores that have an atmosphere a bit like Cheers–everybody knows your name and they are always glad you are here. And finally, these booksellers help us connect both with the books we are looking for and the books that are looking for us.

Stores have come up with some novel attractions, according to the PW article. Brazos Bookstore in Houston is giving out Cormac McCarthy self-published coloring books. They come with two crayons–red and black. Parnassus Books, Ann Patchett’s store in Nashville promises, “a brand new, never before seen, original story created before your very eyes by Nashville’s finest literary talents!” In some cities, including Minneapolis and Chicago, indies are teaming up to offer discount programs tiered by how many stores you visit. One of the weirder giveaways at some stores are literary themed condoms (sigh…).

The real point of the day is to encourage people to visit and leave with books they and those they care for will love. For many stores, this day is like Christmas in April. What I hope it is for many of us is the first (or second or third) step in cultivating a habit. These stores won’t thrive if those of us who are book lovers simply say, “someone else will buy from them.”

Some of us may struggle with the bargain-hunter mentality that tries to find the book at its lowest price. In addition to the fact that this may tempt us to buy more books than we will read (guilty as charged), the care of selecting a book we will buy to read and keep may be another benefit of buying our books at stores that don’t buy in bulk.

Finally, most of these stores take orders over the phone or online. If you can’t go visit them this Saturday, why not support them this way? You might consider doing so early because it sounds like they could be busy on Saturday. For the love of books and for the health of our communities, let’s hope so!

InterVarsity Press Website Update

InterVarsity PressAnyone who has followed this blog for a while knows that a number of the books I review (about a quarter I would estimate) are published by InterVarsity Press. Call it an occupational hazard of working for the collegiate ministry that is the parent organization of which InterVarsity Press is part. We have the opportunity to purchase new releases at a significant discount, all books for a good discount, and they send us occasional freebies. Not a bad fringe benefit, eh?

Recently, when I went to link to a book I was reviewing, I discovered that InterVarsity Press (hereafter, IVP) has completed an elegant update of the website. I visit a number of publisher websites and was very impressed with the look, navigability, and content of the site.

First the homepage. For those searching for a specific title, there is a search bar just below the IVP logo allowing searches by keywords, titles, authors, or series names like “LifeGuide.” Opposite the search bar is a free shipping offer, log in and cart (yes you can have an account and buy stuff direct!). Below the searchbar you see the site menu. “Books” lists categories of books you can search under. “IVP Academic” includes a listing of their academic line books, a textbook locator for professors, instructor resources, an exam or desk copy request form and a catalog request. “About our authors” features authors, provides author booking information and allows you to contact authors through IVP. “Special offers” includes info on their book club, and special programs for commentaries, sets and bulk discounts. There is finally a selection just related to the book club.

Below a rotating banner with clickable features appear IVP’s latest releases. Scrolling down the page, one finds a row of boxes (which may change over time) but feature a “Hard Saying of the Day,” an e-book of the week, a “Meet Our Authors,” and a chance to subscribe to newsletters for the different publishing lines of IVP.  Further down, is a row of “Trending Now Books”. By clicking on the covers you can go to the page for the book. Then you come to a row listing the different lines of IVP books and currently featured titles in each line — IVP Academic, IVP Books, IVP Connect, Formatio, and Praxis. Each drop down describes the line, and in addition to featured books shows featured authors and news.

At the very bottom of the page you can access a number of options under “Resources,” “Partners,” “Help” and “About. Two that I will highlight:

  • The “Daily Quiet Time Study,” a long time feature that provides a biblical passage and discussion questions from one of IVP’s study guides. I was glad to see they kept this feature–a great place to go for substantive daily Bible reading and study.
  • “Discussion guides” leads to a page showing over sixty discussion guides for books published by IVP, a great resource if you are looking for a book to discuss in a group.

If you go to a page for a book, you will find a good size rendering of the cover, publication data including page counts and ISBN numbers, a discounted price and order button. Below these are a description of the book, endorsements, and an author profile. To the right of these are a table of contents, a press kit link for the book (downloadable PDF), related IVP books, and other books by the author published by IVP. One thing I noted that they eliminated from the former website were Goodreads reviews from readers (I suppose one can go to Goodreads for these). Overall, this makes for a cleaner appearance of these pages.

I suspect they are still refining some features on the site. I discovered that clicking on the “Hard Saying of the Day” takes one to a “this page does not exist” page.  When the site first went up, I was dismayed that the former links to the site I had used for many of the books I reviewed had the same problem. Now when you click on links for a book under the old website system, they forward to the current site for the book. Thanks for fixing that,  IVP, so that I don’t have hundreds of links that don’t work on my blog! I should also note that I have not tried using the mobile version of the site extensively. I did discover that for some reason, when I tried entering something in the searchbar, I could not keep the search bar or my Android keyboard visible, and thus could not search. At this point, I would say the site feels more computer- than mobile-friendly.

All in all, IVP has created a new, very up to date looking site with a clean appearance, easy navigability, and many features for book buyers and for readers. There are no pop-ups or overlay ads that can be so annoying. What one finds is a site that makes getting information about a book you might be interested in easy, allows you to order that book, or in many cases, an e-book easily (which provides a higher return to the publisher than going to that big online seller) and offers some wonderful free resources to enhance your devotional and reading life.

Bookstore Review: Steeple People

20170327_140732Steeple People Bookstore may possibly be the best kept bookstore secret in Columbus, or even Bexley, where it is located. We discovered it when we were planning a trip to visit Gramercy Books, and checking out what other interesting businesses we could find on East Main Street in Bexley.  As a result, our visit to Bexley turned into a mini-bookstore crawl!

One of the reasons Steeple People may not be very well known is that it serves the students of Trinity Lutheran Seminary as the source for textbooks for their classes, being housed in the lower level of the main classroom building for the seminary. But it is also a supplier of church supplies ranging from communion supplies to clergy clothing to worship materials and educational materials, particularly for more traditional denominational congregations and especially Episcopal and Lutheran congregations, based on merchandise advertised on their website. What I found unusual for a church-related store was the modest and tasteful selection of gift items, which seem to dominate many religious bookstores. Kind of refreshing, I would say.

I probably represented that unusual customer who came into the store neither for church supplies or class books but for the other thing they advertise, which are theological books. And, as advertised, I found a fairly interesting selection of books reflecting a mainline Protestant perspective. I did find a fair number of books by two of my favorite authors, Walter Bruggemann and N. T. Wright. Also, given that this is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the Ninety Five Theses, there were quite a few books on Luther and the Reformation. But one may also find devotional and spiritual formation texts, books on counselling, stewardship, leadership, biblical studies and theology. All these are displayed in a well-lit store with many books featured cover out, rather than tightly crammed on shelves.

We found a cart with “half off” books just outside the doorway as well as a sale table in the store itself. There is a separate area off the main store area where classroom books are shelved. When we visited, this area had very little in it, as spring term texts had been returned and summer texts were not yet in–typical of any college bookstore.

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A central seating area and a nearby coffee bar invite people to sit and browse book selections or relax and talk with friends. It could make a nice spot for a small book club as well. The store doesn’t arrange its own events but supports seminary speaker appearances by selling books of visiting authors and hosting book-signings after they speak.

If you are visiting Steeple People, you can either find nearby street parking or park in one of the “Visitor” spaces in the lot off College Avenue behind the seminary building. You come in via the lower level back entrance, veer slightly to the left and walk down a hallway toward the front of the building. The store is at the end of the hall.

Store hours as listed on Google are:

Monday – Friday   9 am to 5 pm

Saturday                 9 am to 1 pm

Sunday                    Closed

Phone 614-236-4237

Email: store@steeplepeoplebookstore.com

Website: http://www.steeplepeoplebookstore.com

Bookstore Review: Gramercy Books

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Gramercy Books Entrance

On December 13, 2016, Publishers Weekly posted an article that caught my attention: Gramercy Books Opens in Columbus. That is big news. No retail independent bookstore has opened in Columbus in at least a dozen years. The store was the idea of co-owner and author Linda Kass (author of Tasa’s Song), who was inspired by a visit to Sundog Books, in the Florida panhandle, nearly 20 years ago. Store manager Debra Boggs told me that in preparation to launch the store, Linda visited a number of the best independent stores in the country including fellow author Ann Patchett’s Parnassus Books, in Nashville, Tennessee. Then she teamed up with co-owner and general manager John Gaylord, a long-time bookseller who operated a number of Little Professor Stores, and store manager Debra in opening the store in early December 2016 (grand opening was January 27-29, 2017).

We visited Gramercy Books this week for the first time. Gramercy Books is located on the northwest corner of East Main Street and Cassidy in the newly re-developing shopping corridor in downtown Bexley, across the street from the Bexley Public Library. It is on the first floor of a condo building developed by her husband, developer Frank Kass. Connected to the store is a delightful little café and bakery, Kittie’s Café, owned by the folks who run Kittie’s Bakery in German Village. They feature Stumptown Coffee and delicious baked goods (coffee, baked goods, and books, what is not to like?). There is parking on the street as well as behind the building off of Cassidy.

The main entrance is off of East Main Street and everything spells “inviting” — the black lettered “Gramercy Books” against the light gray stone, below which is a black awning with white pin stripes and the doorway itself with “Find adventure here” stenciled on the window beside the doorway. One steps into a bright, well-lit and thoughtfully laid out store. In front as you enter, you find featured titles and best-sellers. To the right are periodicals and beyond that to the right, behind Kittie’s, is the area for children’s and youth books.

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Children’s and Young Readers Area

Behind the sales counter, you will find an ample selection of Young Adult fiction. In the back left corner of the store, on the back and left walls are the fiction and literature sections. As one looks about the store, one’s eye is drawn here. I found a collection of Langston Hughes poetry in this ample section. Books in a number of non-fiction subject areas may be found in aisles of shelves arranged on either side of the sales counter. This includes books on Ohio and Ohio authors, an ample selection of history and biography, political science, social science and psychology and self-help books, business, sports, spirituality, and arts sections. The front corner to the right of the entrance has a collection of books on cooking. There were kiosks in different parts of the store featuring favorite books of Linda Kass, and the store manager, Debra Boggs.

What impressed me was the wide variety of interesting books from popular best-sellers to serious and thoughtful fiction and non-fiction writing. The team at Gramercy describes it as a “curated bookstore.” Recommendations by different booksellers may be found throughout the store, and it was clear from talking with Debra Boggs that much thought is given to the tastes of their customers as well as the recommendations of trade publications. The feel is much more personal than a large chain store, which can seem overwhelming. Some stores like this have felt “thin” in terms of selection. That was not the case for me–I found much of interest all over the store that I’ve not read.

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Sales Counter looking toward the Fiction and Literature Area

In addition to a customer-centered approach to business and an atmosphere that invites you to come and stay and find a few new treasures, the store hosts a number of events to draw people from near and far into the store. They host author nights for a number of local authors, poetry nights (which I understand are their biggest draw), a book club (discussing J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy on April 25) and even songwriter spotlights. A big upcoming event, co-sponsored with Bexley Public Library (get tickets through the library’s website via Eventbrite), is a book-signing and meet the author night with The Underground Railroad author Colson Whitehead on April 28.

The store may not offer the discounts you will find at the big chains or online but it offers a knowledgeable and friendly staff, free gift-wrapping, special order service, gift cards, ten percent discounts to book clubs, and a Free Rewards program, offering a $5 gift certificate for every twelve books you purchase, plus a free monthly e-newsletter. They seem dedicated to the kind of service that fosters repeat business.

This is a wonderful addition not only to the mix of businesses on East Main Street near the Capital University campus, but also on the bookselling scene in Columbus. It is neither a secondhand store nor a chain. It is an inviting place that conveys to the reader the message, “we were thinking of you and thought you might enjoy reading this…or this.”  It is a gem that I hope the Bexley community and the broader book-buying public in central Ohio will support. If so, I know that Linda, John, Debra and the rest of the staff will say a “big thanks” (the meaning behind the word “Gramercy”).

Store Hours:

Monday to Friday 10am – 9pm
Saturday 9am – 9pm
Sunday 9am – 5pm

Contact:

614.867.5515
info@gramercybooksbexley.com

Website: http://www.gramercybooksbexley.com/

Address:

2424 E. Main Street
Bexley, OH 43209

How To Be A Bookseller, Inspired by Bernard Black

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Lawrence Hammar, owner of Blue Jacket Books, who epitomizes a great bookseller–nothing like those in this post!

Bookriot posted a hilarious post based on the British series Black Books, on “How to Be a Customer in a Book Shop, According to Bernard Black.” It’s a hoot and you really should take a look at it. I thought, in the same vein, I would post a few tips on How to Be a Bookseller, inspired by Black, and some of the more nefarious booksellers I’ve experienced over the years.

  1. Never acknowledge customers. It only encourages them. They’ll talk to you. They will ask you about books. Listening to the latest NPR podcast is infinitely more important.
  2. Make things hard to find. Don’t label sections. Pile unstocked books in front of shelves so it is difficult to get to them.
  3. Never. Clean. Anything. The book can’t possibly be worth anything if it doesn’t have a fine patina of dust and grime on it. You want your customers to walk out looking like they’ve been in a coal mine. After all, how else will they get their friends to believe they had just come from an antiquarian bookstore?
  4. Persuade all your customers that they really need to buy books from that collection of obscure, mildewed books that you purchased too quickly. Everyone needs a copy of the antebellum best selling Social Etiquette for the Plantation, after all.
  5. Give outrageously high prices to books that have been sitting on your shelves for years and aren’t really worth it. Don’t negotiate. You don’t really want to part with them, do you?
  6. Stay blithely uninformed about what you have on your shelves. After all, you’d really rather be at the beach…or golf course…or pub. How dare customers expect that you’ve read or are actually interested in any of this stuff?

Sorry, I don’t have any videos to go along with these. And the truth is, most of the booksellers I’ve know are not like this at all. They love books, build relationships with their customers, and make their shops places you want to spend time in. They are good hosts who love introducing customers to their books, helping them make new friends, as it were. They turn soulless transactions into rich interactions. Thank goodness they don’t take their inspiration from Bernard Black!

An Amazing Bookstore

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One of the many alcoves at Blue Jacket Books, an amazing store in Xenia, Ohio

Have you had the experience of discovering an amazing bookstore, one that seemed to have any book about anything? There seemed to be miles of shelves, cubby holes where you could curl up with a book, and great bargains on remaindered books–ones you wanted to read when they were full price, except you hadn’t gotten around to it.

In a Literary Hub article I discovered that we have James Lackington to thank for all of this. Lackington opened a store in 1774 in London that revolutionized bookselling to this day. His store, The Temple of Muses, eventually stocked 500,000 volumes. He bought large quantities of remaindered titles and, instead of destroying most of them to drive up the price, he passed the savings on to customers. He had four floors of books with “lounging rooms” for customers. It sounds like it was an incredible place.

I remember my first visit to a Borders store while we were house hunting in Columbus. This was when they were still owned by the Borders brothers. I couldn’t believe the depth of selection in each topic area, there was an amazing sale table, and lots of places to sit and browse your finds, as well as a cafe so that you could do it all drink in hand. All the things Lackington figured out made a great bookstore were present.

Now Borders is gone. There is only one major brick and mortar bookseller to speak of. More and more, the selection is limited to either the most significant or most current books in a genre. The only “everything” store is online. But there are still some great stores around the country such as Powell’s or BookPeople who still approximate this ideal. And the second hand stores, particularly some of the Half Price Books stores provide the opportunity for finding great bargains and unusual books. There are some independents as well, some in out of the way places like Blue Jacket Books in Xenia, Ohio that approximate this ideal.

I find myself wondering if a generation from now, people will still have the jaw-dropping experience of walking into a huge bookstore that seems to stock everything, where there are miles of aisles and shelves to explore on every conceivable topic. I also wonder if we will foster a culture that values such places. But there is the wonderful experience of finding your favorite section, and leisurely reading down the shelves of books and making those serendipitous finds that a logarithm or a heuristic might not predict because it only goes off your past history, and not your future interests, the ones that may be awakened by a title, a book cover, or a table of contents. It is a cultural good I hope we do not lose.

I do feel fortunate because in our city, Columbus, while we don’t have any “temples” to books, we have some pretty interesting stores. Some, like the Book Loft in German Village, with its 32 rooms over a couple floors, or the Half Price store on Lane Ave that sprawls and winds through a couple connected buildings get kind of close to Lackington’s ideal. A while back I wrote a post about bookstore crawling in Columbus. If you ever come through, I hope you will come visit some of my favorite places and help keep them alive!

I’d love to hear about your amazing bookstore experiences, so I can visit if I ever come through your town!