A Sad Day for Bookstores

Agape Booksellers, located in the Jackson Crossing Mall in Jackson, Michigan, is the latest victim of the digital revolution. As of yesterday, there were only a few rows of books left and a handful of display shelves, all for 80% off. The people behind the counter were distant, as if they had grown weary from watching their store go empty.

Agape isn’t the only bookstore closing its doors in Jackson.

At the Jackson Westwood mall, Waldenbooks/Borders is also in super clearance mode today as they count their final days of being open. An employee was standing at a computer terminal, glasses resting on her forehead as she rubbed her tired eyes. The largest remaining section of 80% off, besides romance, was self-help books that ironically invited us to think positive thoughts and live our best lives now.

It breaks my heart to see these local bookstores closing. On a personal – “me” – level, I’m sad that there are less places to go and see what’s new, what’s good, and to be around others who think the same way and value the same type of store. I see closing bookstores as a personal loss, as if a part of my life that has been so enriched will now shrivel and die, hastily and incompletely replaced by the internet. My life goes on and will someday include a digital reader, which I’m putting off because I’m just not ready yet. As petty and retrograde as that sounds, I know that it’s because I’m sad. I really like books.

On a personal – “they” – level, I’m sad that people will be out of work. The ripple effect will be far-reaching, not just for the folks who work behind the counter and help people reach a Harlequin on a high shelf, but for the distributors, publishers, managers, and landlords. It’s not like another bookstore will move in and put their knowledge and experience to good use. Nor will it occupy another vacant spot in our sadly deteriorating malls. I grieve for the forced transition that my bookstore pals will now endure.

Sometimes I like to think neanderthal thoughts about the internet and remember how it once was, before we were connected to Ethernet like all the pod people in The Matrix. Bookstores, post offices, the fine art of asking the gas station how to get to Quincy (about 3 mile down from West Ave) — these are the casualties of our forward momentum, moving faster and faster with more and more prejudice, taking all of us on a mixed up adventure which feels more like a misadventure sometimes.

I dunno. Maybe I’m just old. Maybe this is somehow wrapped up in losing my Mom, who taught me by action how to love books — good, strange and otherwise — because of what they offered. You can read. So do it. I suppose that the best part is that we don’t have to give up reading. But we are forced to give up analog, physical, fully present browsing. Amazon thinks I would like to buy this book because I bought that one. In a similar yet totally different, Jay thinks I would like this biography by Walter Isaacson because he knows I don’t like to be bored for 600 pages.

It won’t be the same.

About radamdavidson

I'm a husband, dad, and pastor living in Portage, Michigan. I suppose I'm a euphoric melancholy generalist with average skills, experiences, and passions across several intertwined disciplines and hobbies including music, speaking, writing, leadership, ministry, and collecting cultural artifacts from the 1980's -- mostly vintage boomboxes. You can read my blog at www.radamdavidson.com, subscribe to my podcast (RadCast) or friend me on facebook.com/radamdavidson. about.me/radamdavidson
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4 Responses to A Sad Day for Bookstores

  1. Ed McMurray says:

    Adam I’m in total agreement with you…I like to read “books” I don’t like reading things off a screen.

  2. Longing for the times of old is something that I do daily. I yearn for the lifestyle of growing your food because that’s just how it’s done, and not for the novelty of it. I long for chickens roaming in back yards for egg collection and the occasional coq a vin. I long for horses and buggies to bounce people from place to place. Think of how green we would all be if we just lived simpler lives! (–she said a bit sarcastically.)
    It saddens me to know of the bookstores closing in Jackson and everywhere else. Our mall bookstore closed a year or so ago, and the Barnes & Noble has been seemingly doing well. But the first thing you see upon entry (after the “last chance” clearance books that are so unworthy that they have to sit in the foyer) is the Nook counter. They are systematically pushing their avid readers of physical books to the electronic. Happily. Truly, I think the only two things keeping the place open now are story times for the kids and the cafe that serves Starbucks, but isn’t actually a Starbucks. They don’t even take Starbucks gift cards as currency! The noive. (c’mon… think Cowardly Lion… There. You got it.)
    Anyway, good post Adam. It’s good to know what’s happening in the old neck of the woods. Sad, too… Bittersweet I guess.

    • It does seem cannibalistic for brick&mortar stores to sell electronic readers. I don’t know if they’ve checked, but you can buy things without going to stores online. I’ve spent thousands at Amazon, yet I’ve never actually been to an Amazon store.
      Can you imagine an Amazon store? How big would it have to be?
      I can think of some empty bays in the malls, but that won’t be enough!
      Thanks for your good thoughts.
      rad

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