Friday, March 11, 2011
Slaying the Chain Bookstore Dragon — For Now
About a decade ago, Borders announced that it was planning to open a bookstore downtown. A lot of people were worried that it would put locally owned Bookshop Santa Cruz out of business, and for a couple of months it seemed like the only story in town.
At the time, I had been doing public relations for The Home Depot, which also wanted to put a store in our community, and which was also opposed in part by people who felt that it would put locally owned hardware stores and lumber yards out of business.
Based on what I had learned on the Home Depot campaign, I didn’t feel the local bookstore was in grave danger, provided it responded to the competition and made a few prudent adjustments. In fact, I recall having a conversation with my best friend in which I argued that the real problem for Bookshop Santa Cruz wasn’t Borders; it was Amazon.com and the internet in general.
Those memories came flooding back this past week as I visited Borders to pick up a few discounted mysteries at their going-out-of-business sale. The Santa Cruz store was one of many being closed because of troubles having to do with failure to compete with Amazon.com and the internet, in the form of digital books. Bookshop Santa Cruz is still in business.
I’m happy for Bookshop Santa Cruz, but sorry to see Borders go. For those of us who love books, it’s never a good thing to lose a bookstore, even if it’s one of the big chains with not much local connection. Show me a town with more than one bookstore, and I’ll show you a good town.
When Borders came to Santa Cruz, it did not, as many feared, stick a siphon into the local store and begin sucking out money. Instead, it created a dynamic that made the downtown more appealing and vibrant.
With the two largest bookstores in the county separated by only a couple of blocks, and with two used bookstores also within easy walking distance, Santa Cruz was the clear destination point for book lovers.
The presence of the two big stores made it worth a trip to town just to see what was new and to browse. If you were looking for a certain type of book but didn’t know exactly what, you could compare between the two stores. Any time we were planning a trip, it was great to check out the two travel sections and pick the best guidebook or two from between them.
If I was looking for a specific book, it was great to have two options. Generally, I would go to Bookshop Santa Cruz first, and if they had it, I’d buy there to support the local business. If not, I’d go down to Borders and get it if they had it, which they nearly always did.
One thing I learned from checking both places was that there seemed to be no truth to the argument, often advanced by the anti-chain advocates, that chain stores stint on serious titles. Over the years there were a number of times when I was searching for a serious novel or nonfiction book and found it at Borders after Bookshop Santa Cruz said sorry.
And now there is one new-book bookstore in town. I’m happy that Bookshop Santa Cruz is still around and seemingly doing well, but something tells me they’ve merely won the first and easiest skirmish. Best of luck to them in the more serious battles to come.