I am speechless.
Ask most people to paint a picture of their perfect bookstore and it probably involves a pair of bay windows housing a selection of titles specially selected by the shop’s long-serving staff. Through the front door (complete with a brass bell) there are well-worn harvest tables with stacks of new releases, solid classics, cash-generating genres and obscure but wonderfully readable selections from loyal customers. The oak floors are dark and well worn and they probably creak and sag a little. There’s a wonderful scent of various papers, ink, glue, linen, card-stock and toxic varnishes, and in certain corners of the shop a jazzy tune can be heard through crackly old speakers. Scattered about are armchairs for children to read and pensioners to pause (they’re not meant as a satellite office for people to do research or conduct business) and there are plenty of decently paid staff (read: not minimum wage) to advise on cookbooks for the helpless, picture books to calm hyper tots, and travel guides to less-explored corners of Turkey.
The male staff wear cosy cardigans and the women favour loafers, kilts and turtlenecks for an overall effect that says these people look like they know what they’re talking about and therefore I’ll buy whatever they suggest. Perhaps the most important detail is that you can see all the way to the back of the shop from the front door but once inside you discover there are enough cosy nooks and corners to get lost in an absorbing first chapter. In short, the bookstore that people dream about is small-scale, warm and welcoming and personal. American and British retail chains that are suffering are anything but.
Scan the parking lots of many US malls and there’s a good chance you’ll spot a red brick or yellow stucco box belonging to a book retailer bolted on to a bigger yellow stucco box that anchors a host of other similar looking boxes with backlit logos, no windows and zero personality. Inside the book box, the experience is bewildering and alienating. The lighting is bright and harsh, there’s a vague scent of popcorn and there’s not a sales person or shelf-stocker in sight.
The store is so big and devoid of any hint of cosiness that you feel there’s little need to return because you never locked eyes with a sales person, never found a welcoming corner to linger and browse, didn’t stumble on any literary surprises and ultimately didn’t connect as a customer.
Sad, very sad indeed.