My friend Linda is a book collector. She’s been one most of her life, curating her collection through years of working in book stores and buying and selling on Amazon and Ebay. Until recently she managed the largest used book warehouse in our area.
That warehouse closed last year, not so much a victim of the pandemic as the decision by the owners to pull the trigger on a long-planned retirement. The pandemic made the decision easier. But not easy. There were tears. There was disappointment. Grief.
The massive store inventory was bought out by an online bookseller. Linda took a few boxes in lieu of severance pay, and our community is now without a used bookshop.
It’s just one of those things.
I’ve never owned a bookshop, though I suspect it’s a little like owning a coffeehouse, a business with which I’m intimately acquainted. Neither one is work you take on to fill up your retirement fund or pay for your kid’s college tuition. You do it in order for the thing to exist.
Used book stores, like coffeehouses and corner bars, are often tucked into the margins of a commercial district, in spaces where high-volume sales are not necessary for the business to survive, Which means they can invite the sort of slow, measured participation that encourages aimless thought and the chance for random delight. They let us be, in other words, so we can observe, peruse, be out among our fellow humans without too much effort or the need to commit to anything beyond a few bucks for a paperback,
We don’t have enough of those kinds of places.
Like other second-hand shops, good used book stores deal in the currency of a less formal economy, a reclamation economy, that invites reciprocity (buy-sell-trade!) and provides an alternative to the casino economy of constant extraction-production-exploitation that’s been shredding us, and shedding us, for decades.
Plus, they keep things out of the waste stream, extending the useful life of products long past their conventional expiration date. That matters, too. Even if there’s no money in it.
I’m wrapping up my tenure at the latte bar that’s been employing me this past year, and thinking how nice it might be to give one more thing to this community before I’m done. We need a used bookshop. Something small and intimate. With high ceilings and good light and a shop cat sleeping in the window. It’s a fool’s venture, so I just might do it. I have Linda to advise me. Maybe to work with me. We have a lot in common. She’s never learned how to care about making money, either.