Remember the movie, “You’ve Got Mail?” I know it’s totally dated now but the story within the story was always interesting to me. Just to recap, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks were doing the online dating routine via 90’s chat room when it turned out that his big chain of book stores were in the midst of putting her family owned children’s book store out of business. My, how times have changed. Last week, it was reported that Borders, the retail bookstore giant, filed for Chapter 11 due to the inability to pay its debt to publishers, vendors, etc. The talk on the street is that their lack of joining the digital age cost them sales, leaving Barnes and Noble and their Nook product as well as Amazon’s Kindle to leave them in the dust. My question is, when did reading become so convoluted?
I will be the first to admit I was on the Barnes and Noble bandwagon in the 90’s, toting my latte and sprawling out on the floor with 10 different travel books. To this day, I can spend an entire afternoon or evening rummaging through books but I can’t help but notice that HOW people obtain their reading materials has taken on a life unto itself. The evolution of the book buying experience is mind-boggling when you see where we are today. I think the Kindle and the Nook are the greatest inventions for travelers since they put wheels on suitcases. Especially since we have to travel lighter due to bulk and weight restrictions? Absolutely fabulous. However, what cracks me up is how some people have become concrete in their book buying practices and never look back.
What’s my point you ask? ( I know, get to it.) While the various book sellers were engaged in a race to sell the most, be the best, make it easy for the consumer to buy their books with the click of a mouse, the bookstore experience turned into something different, sometimes feeling like something is lacking. Even with the lattes. I know you just want to buy a book but like everything else I engage in, I must have atmosphere. Remember libraries? Free books…..what a concept! I hate to make a Sex & the City reference but there’s a scene in Sex in the City 1 where Carrie Bradshaw talks about why she still goes to the public library. The smell of old books and the experience itself which triggered my own memories of why I used to love to go to the old San Francisco library as a kid. (It has since become the Asian Art museum.)
I admit that I’ve turned my own online ordering into online hoarding but there’s still nothing like walking into a bookstore…..especially a used bookstore, and rifling through books that have been used, written in, dog-eared, beaten up, and appreciated. Although part of the problem, I have been caught between supporting the bigger chains like Borders and B&N and the small business owned book stores. Now, while feeling sympathy for Borders and its employees, alternatively I have to admit that I have hope that people will return to their roots and support the small business owner and their local libraries. Personally, while keeping up with the times, I have always leaned toward Mom and Pop businesses. We need them. Worldwide. One of my most prized possessions is a book I obtained in an antique store in Fiesole, Italy. On the bottom of a pile of books, I picked up a large picture book of Death in the Afternoon, written by Ernest Hemingway with Illustrations by Picasso. It cost me $5.00 U.S. and still is my best book buying experience to date.
Here are some of my all-time favorite bookstores that I’ve enjoyed over the years. If you go to the links, you will find the histories of these stores to be pretty interesting. I hope you all will add to the list if you have any favorites!
Dog-Eared Books, San Francisco-Located on Valencia Street in the Valencia corridor/Mission area. Small bookstore, great area, crappy parking. As is the case with any popular area, right?
Green Apple Books-San Francisco-Located in the Richmond District at the corner of Clement and 6th. This book store is often voted as a favorite in the local papers. It’s huge, creaky, and has the largest selection of books that I have found in the city. Love it.
Hicklebee’s-San Jose, CA.- I have to go back to my roots here. This precious, independent children’s bookstore has been around since 1979 and is still thriving in the community, offering and fantastic selection of books for kids and young adults. Located in the Willow Glen part of San Jose, it shouldn’t be missed if ever in the area. You can also visit and shop online.
Elliott Bay Book Company-Seattle, WA. -And then there’s my all-time favorite. Love, Love, Love this bookstore. They moved from their Pioneer Square location which kills me because that was a great location but I have always loved their selection. The Elliott Bay Book Co. has become a staple in Seattle and their cafe is where Niles and Frasier used to have their lattes so how could you go wrong. If anyone has been to the new location I would love to hear what you think about it.