Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Independent Bookstores – Swindled by Big Box?

Dateline: 11:57 pm December 3, 2006 Filed under:

What is your favorite bookstore? I realize in my travels that I tend to happen upon wonderful independent bookstores. I don’t necessarily seek them out, but I do seek out great neighborhoods, and it just so happens that the two often go hand in hand.

I recently discovered The King’s English in Salt Lake City. I was actually looking for breakfast and discovered a great little retail street (high on the quaint-o-meter) in a leafy part of the city with a gift shop, a little French restaurant, the ubiquitous Starbuck’s, and a lovely little bookstore.

I ventured in and wandered among tightly spaced bookshelves in little rooms of varying sizes and ceiling heights – exactly the kind of bookstore you could get lost and spend hours in. 

One book caught my eye and I bought it thinking better to support the independent bookstore than a chain. Good instinct. The book is Big-Box Swindle by Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. This was a bit serendipitous because the book looks at the true cost of big box development on our economy, our independent businesses, our built environment and, well, on us.

I’m not yet finished reading it, but there is a chapter that briefly looks at several market segments, including bookstores, that suffer from corporate competition. It even mentions The King’s English in Salt Lake City as it compares independent bookstores to chains and even Wal-Mart, gravely noting the loss of independent bookstores (there were half as many in 2002 than in 1990) as the chains gain market share (Barnes & Noble and Borders now sell half of all books sold in U.S. bookstores). You may not agree with the point of view of the Big-Box Swindle, but you can’t deny the numbers.

So tell me, what is your favorite bookstore and why? I know those of you reading this are from around the country and likely travel a lot, so also let me know in what city your favorite bookstore is located and (for my sake) what type of urban environment as well. Feel free to email me your response and I will let all of you know the results and any interesting stories.

In the meantime, I have a book to finish. 

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