Saturday, August 06, 2011

Bookstores

When I first came to Tucson six years ago for a job interview, one of the things I wanted to do was see the local mystery bookstore. I have always had a fondness for bookstores of all kinds.

As a teenager growing up on Long Island, one of the treats of going into Manhattan with my friends was a stop at the Scribners Book Store.  As far as I know, we didn't have a bookstore in my home town, much less anything the size of Scribners.

I will never forget that magnificent staircase that led up to the second floor or the shelves and shelves of books of all kinds. It was a magical place, better than a library.

Unfortunately, Scribners disappeared decades ago.

I remember a used bookstore in Sea Cliff, New York. Mr. Thompson's I think it was called. That was a totally different experience. It was a small store, crammed with gently worn volumes, shelves so close together you could barely walk down the aisles.

It was natural that one of the things I would look for in a potential new home town was a bookstore. Yes, I knew there was a Barnes and Noble and a Borders store, but was there a store that was unique to Tucson?



It took a bit of doing, but I found Clues Unlimited on Broadway tucked away in the first shopping center built in Tucson. Broadway Village was designed by Josias Joesler, whose architecture is known for being distinctly Tucson. Located on a side street, it was just the kind of bookstore I could fall in love with.  There were two separate rooms with mysteries organized by type. It had an area for author signings squeezed in among the shelves. The owner, Chris, was warm and welcoming and answered my questions.

Today I took a trip to the new location of Clues Unlimited for a book launch party and signing. Last year (or was it the year before?) they announced that they were moving from the Broadway Village location. The reason given was that they were looking for a location with more pedestrian traffic. I think what happened is that the rent got too expensive.

The new store has no character. It's another strip mall store. It could be a Hallmark store or a gift shop just as well as a bookstore. There are still the books organized by category, but it seems there are fewer of them. And they've added used books to the new ones they carry. Now, I don't have a problem with buying used books when it's impossible to buy a new copy. If you can't buy a new copy, the author can't earn the royalties from it. And I begrudgingly accept the existence of used bookstores like Bookmans.

But I saw new and used copies of the same book next to one another on the shelf.

One of the reasons to patronize an independent bookstore is to support a local business, to assure that it will stay in business to provide the personal attention that is often missing at a corporate business. It's going to cost more than ordering from Amazon or shopping at Barnes and Noble, where bestsellers are 20% off, more with a membership card. Buying from an independent is a matter of principle more than anything else.

But, if I'm willing to pay more to support something I believe in, shouldn't the bookstore have similar principles and not sell used copies of books that keep the author from earning anything from the sale?

I was very disappointed, to say the least. I won't be making any more trips there unless there's an author I love appearing there and nowhere else in town. It's a forty-five minute drive to the new location, the selection isn't terrific, it costs more, and they're depriving authors of income.

Besides, the people at Barnes and Noble are very nice. They always help me find books I've come in for and I can read books for free on my Nook. And there's the cafe available for a latte and some conversation. I just hope they don't go the way of Borders.
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