And February? And my trip to Ithaca? And what about bookstores?

Yep, the January post lied.  Sorry about that!  The “week” until the next post was more of a goal than a reality.  February is all but gone, my trip to Ithaca was canceled, and if I believe everything I read then bookstores are on their way out as well.

In the span of a few days I read about the bankruptcy of Borders as well as the closing of Buffalo Street Books.  The Borders of my childhood closed the other month, and the New York Times even featured that specific location in their article.  Check it out:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/17/business/media/17borders.html .  It’s like the graphic novel I did back in ’08, only a news article.  Even though it was a large chain, the Borders on 14 and Orchard was where I first discovered Harry Potter, where my sixth grade class went on a field trip, etc.  That Borders had been sad for years, so it was no surprise to see it go.

I was more astounded to read that Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca, New York is closing.  That was Ithaca’s only independent new bookstore.  This weekend I had hoped to say goodbye to Buffalo Street Books, but alas, Delta airlines would not let it be so.  I hope all of my friends still in Ithaca (I miss you guys!) take the time out of their busy schedule to check out Buffalo Street Books before it closes.

For Valentine’s Day, I wanted to post on my great love of bookstores and especially independent bookstores.  Unfortunately, I had a paper due midnight on Valentine’s day so… um, yeah.  Better late than never I guess.

Growing up, my favorite bookstore was Halfway Down the Stairs.  A trip to Halfway Down the Stairs was one of my favorite outings, and usually involved pizza.  The store and I were the same age, so I had been shopping there from very early on in my life.  A highlight of my middle school existence was to get reading recommendations from the store’s owner.  The days following those recommendations were generally lost to anything that wasn’t reading.  The amount of frequent buyer cards my family went through was probably immense.  My mom would also take me to events at the store, ranging from a Laura Ingalls Wilder themed event to meeting such award-winning illustrators such as Ed Young.

The very last Halfway Down the Stairs event my mom took me to was their grand closing party in January of 2008, celebrating the retirement of the store along with the store’s owner.  I could tell that everyone at that event loved that store just as much as I had.  Longtime customers were buying books as if they were buying a brick of the building, a keepsake, one last hand-picked read from a wonderful place.  One of my most embarrassing memories is when my mom and I accidentally won the door to Gringott’s bank.  Ask me about it sometime.

Anyway, even if I can’t be in Ithaca this week, at least I get to spend my spring break at my favorite bookstore, Kaleidoscope Books.  And to anyone reading this blog, please feel free to leave a comment about any memories you have from independent or even chain bookstores.  I’d like to read them.

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14 Responses to And February? And my trip to Ithaca? And what about bookstores?

  1. Mom says:

    The wonderful take-away, for me at least, is that… you LOVE books and reading.
    THAT love will never go away, and I still say books will NOT die, either.
    I hope you will be able to say “Mom was right” (because books WILL still be alive!) …many years from now!
    <3, Your Mom

  2. Val says:

    Ah… bookstores – right up there with libraries! I have to admit that my best memories of bookstores are from right here in Petoskey, as I think we have one of the best independent book stores out there – McLean & Eakin. This is the store that when there is not much else to do, and the kids are bored… we jump in the car to go to the bookstore. The kids get wrapped up every time and it always takes forever to get back home. All the employees know them as they participated in the kids book discussion groups for years – so they feel at home. And whenever I need a book for ANYONE – there is always a smiling face to help pick the exact right title.

    I am worried about our book store making it through this changing time. They are really trying hard to get into the eBook phenomena by selling ebooks through IndieBound. But my thought is that here in small town petoskey – the book store is hugely important – they sell lots of tourism books and provide for bookclubs and everyone loves them – so will make it through. Times are really changing and we all have to make every moment count and push every penny to the extreme. I just hope i am creative enough and have enough stamina to pull the library to the top, into the next generation.

  3. Kathleen Smith says:

    My own recent tragic closing was the Barnes & Noble at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. “Visit our store in Pleasanton!” I think not. But, independent bookstore owners who lobby to tax the Internet because of the “unfair advantage” infuriate me. Please — don’t tax me to support your personal lifestyle and business choices. I do buy from local sources — 9.5% tax and all — but, honestly, Amazon is my go to book source. No driving,no parking, no buses, plus a vast selection, significant discounts, 24 hour shopping, and rapid delivery to my doorstep. The only, but significant, downside is the inability to leaf through the physical book. And I can get the books I want at Amazon. I’m not limited to “bestsellers” and what publishers choose to market. There is a place for brick and mortar bookstores but the model has to change. And, of course, like all right thinking people, I have a library card, too.

  4. Shelly Brooks says:

    I too loved Halfway Down the Stairs and morned their closing. It reminded me of my favorite movie, ‘You’ve Got Mail’ with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. I’m almost embarrassed to say that I have seen that movie more that 10 times. I think I keep watching it, wanting the ending to be different.

  5. Cal in California says:

    Greetings from San Francisco, where I enjoy reading your blog. Your latest entry got me to reminiscing about my late teen’s and early 20’s back east. In Huntington, about 40 miles east of Manhattan on Long Island’s North Shore, there was bookstore named Oscar’s. Oscar was a retired book keeper who opened the shop, I suppose in the late 60’s or early 70’s. I wish I knew for sure and perhaps another reader will. Oscar’s was a statement! It’s very being screamed that Oscar was tired of balanced books and had transitioned into a more chaotic way of life. You could get lost in there; a random, haphazard feel permeated the store. I was endlessly trying to figure it out, and never did. And it was huge! I remember lots of nooks and crannies. Too bad I didn’t have a girlfriend back then, because there were lots of places to make out. The selection was vast. Old and new. Tall and short. This and that. Bargain or not. But here’s the deal: to find what I wanted I had to go ask Oscar where it was. He would simultaneously direct me and offer his opinion and judgment, wanted or not, on what I was looking for: Tarzan (feh!); the New York Times Almanac (OK!); good fiction (nice work, kid); any sports title (a silent shrug). His staff was cool. Sooner or later if you were a lover of books you landed in Oscar’s, where the lovable old crumudgeon lorded over his kingdom with a crusty attitude that I both loved and feared. There were lots of gems in Huntington back then: Kropotkin Records with Tom & Rob, a cool old library out of the OLD school, the pizza place (the night shift guy was hilarious and always made funny faces at me when I went in there stoned); Economy Clothing and Hamburger Choo Choo. On the north end of town vast open fields invited me to fly my kite, which I kept in the back window well of my trusty old VW, Bertha. But no visit to Huntington was complete without a trip to Oscar’s. Rest In Peace, Oscar, you are missed!

  6. Cal in California says:

    But wait! There’s more! We have Green Apple Books right here in San Francisco. It’s out of the same can of beans as Oscar’s. Same disheveled feel with tons of titles. And it’s close to good Chinese take out, too! It’s near the corner of Clement & 6th Avenue. Of course I don’t read all that much, sort of the opposite of you and your Mom, my current reading habits would really piss off MY Mom (I was good at that, too!).

  7. sheila hooker says:

    My parents had a used bookstore when I was young. It was better than growing up in a candy store, and much less fattening. I could read what I pleased and was able to widen my interests enormously. Some of my favorite books were medical books from the turn of the century. They were illustrated and satisfied the morbid nature of the child. I remember one with rows and rows of perforated hymens, showing the all varieties possible. Another favorite was the pictures of a man with a large tumor of the jaw. If it weren’t for his hat and his necktie, it would have been impossible to tell forehead from chin. Ah, those were the days!

  8. Thank you to everyone who commented! I enjoy reading them, and appreciate hearing how bookstores mean so much not only to myself, but also my friends and family.

  9. Marian says:

    What can I say – as much as I am a book person – I am first and always a library user and not a book buyer.

  10. Good news! A bunch of Ithacans got together and raised $250,000 to save Buffalo Street Books. It’s going to close for a few months, then reopen as a co-op. Check out the official website: http://www.buffalostreetbooks.com/

    But yeah, I’ve always been a library fellow myself. Although I’d be lying if I said there weren’t bookstores (Bookman’s in Tucson, the Alabaster in NYC) that I have fond associations with.

  11. Randy says:

    Going to a bookstore was always a delightful experience. Nothing like browsing in different categories to see what is available. But lately I find less opportunity to be in the vicinity of a bookstore. It seems time is speeding up and there is always less and less time to get things done. So I was surprised and saddened to hear about the closing of a rather large bookstore chain. But one of the things I did read was how one of the missteps they took at the corporate level was the miscalculation on the impact of e-books. I must admit that I love the smell and feel of a book but lately I have become attached to my Kindle. Where previously I was reading less I now find myself immersed in new “adventures” in stories that I didn’t realize that I missed so much.
    I can carry all of the books I have read plus every issue of the NY times that I read since acquiring the Kindle (well over 1 year). Someday I imagine that a library will be lending out an electronic reader for you to borrow if you cannot afford your own. Unlike the prediction of all us being George Jetson flying around I do believe electronic readers are the wave of the future.

  12. Arlynn says:

    I remember hearing about the day that Mom took you to the closing sale of Halfway Down the Stairs! Back when I owned my used bookstore, the buzz was all about how the big chains were going to put us all out of business. And they did. But then Amazon grew and grew and ebooks came along and …well, the retail landscape continues to evolve. When I was a journalism student, there were predictions that one day computers would replace print media and newspapers, in particular, would disappear. It was hard to imagine such a world but I am now living in it. The written word will always be accessible in one form or another and while fewer texts may be published in the form of a traditional book, I believe traditional books will continue to be published. And they will certainly continue to be cherished.

  13. Arlynn says:

    Oscars Book Store!

  14. Terry says:

    I’m more of a used book person myself.

    I always have a book with me to read in the bank line, in the elevator, on the subway, at lunch, waiting for the doctor. Library books, and electronic readers are far too much responsibility for me to carry in my pocket in the rain and snow, or chance leaving in one of the last places I visited.

    Someone should explain to new parents that parents who read (to themselves and their children) usually have children who read. Children who read start school miles ahead of one’s who don’t and usually stay that way.

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