I knew something was wrong the minute I walked in.
My local Half Price Books is––at least for a little while longer––almost across the street from me. A block down my street, two blocks along a main road and you're there. I could walk there in 5 minutes, or 6 if I walked up when the stoplight was red.
Last weekend when I walked to the bookstore, it was like the soul of the place had been hollowed out. A third of its shelves were bare, the employees looked like they'd been to a funeral, and though the store usually has a healthy crowd, there were only one or two other people shopping. It didn't take me long to figure out the store was in the process of closing, for good.
I've heard of book deserts and I know I don't live in one of them. There are two other Half Price Books locations 15 minutes in either direction from me and 3 different independent bookstores in my city, each about a 20-minute drive away.
Hell, I'm even friends with a local bookseller who has a pop-up bookstore for festivals and events. The last time I bought a book from him I literally drove to his house a few miles away to pick it up. And I have enough privilege and disposable income that I can order books online, if I need to.
While it's certainly convenient having a bookstore practically across the street and I'll be sad to see it go, especially since it was a selling point for getting a house in the area we did, it's not me I'm worried about.
I'm worried about the people in the lower income neighborhood on the other side of the interstate who are further away from a bookstore, especially a used bookstore with a robust clearance section. I'm worried about all the people I see taking the bus, who might not be able to get to other bookstores because of bus fares, difficulty navigating bus transfers, or who just don't have the extra time to take several bus lines to another location.
I'm worried about every little kid in the neighborhood who loves to read and for whom that bookstore is their favorite bookstore. I know one of those kids personally and I'm glad I don't have to be the one to tell him his favorite bookstore is shutting its doors for good.
The employee I talked to said that out of the 10 years that Half Price Books location has been open, only 2 of those years have been profitable. What does that say to the little boy who loves to read and begs to go to that Half Price Books after school if he finishes all of his homework? What does a bookstore closing say about us as a society?
I realize that one bookstore is not the end-all-be-all of book buying and that there are still libraries and other means of buying books. But there's something to be said for physically going to a bookstore and getting lost among the stacks, browsing through whatever they have on hand, not necessarily going for a particular purpose. I can't begin to tell you how many wonderful books I've discovered simply because they caught my eye; because I was at the right place at the right time.
That's what we really lose when a bookstore closes. We lose the magic of a book choosing us, rather than us seeking out only what we know. We lose the wonder of discovery because, without stacks to roam through, we are limited to what we know, or what we think to search for or what others recommend for us. We lose some of the agency of making reading our own.
While I know mine and my partner's support alone couldn't have saved the bookstore, I can't help wanting to hug every reader I know and tell them to support their local bookstore and love them hard.