Author: Luisa Perkins
•8:29 PM
I'm hopping mad.

Saturday morning, I went to our local independent bookstore to pick up a birthday gift. I had noticed in recent months that the shelves were looking a little bare, but when I had asked about this, I'd been told that the store was 'between shipments' or 'doing inventory.'

On this visit, the pickings were sparse indeed. As the cashier wrapped the book I'd purchased, I fixed her with my best gimlet gaze and said, "The shelves look bare. Should I be worried?" She hesitated, then replied, "Yes. The store will close in the fall."

I was devastated; this has happened to me before. When we lived in Manhattan, my beloved Shakespeare & Co. eventually found it could not compete with the volume and tactics of Barnes & Noble and closed its doors forever. When I lived in San Francisco, A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books was a favorite hangout; I recently read that it is also folding.

Why is a local, independent bookstore important to me? For the same reason I buy the bulk of our food from local farmers whenever possible. I value the human connection. I like supporting people who are intimately involved in the work that they do, that have specialized knowledge born of hands-on experience. I contrast the experience of buying a book from someone with whom I can trade recommendations and reviews with the typical Borders/B&N experience vividly depicted by Desmond at the Rag and Bone Shop in this post. (Follow the link; it's a great story.)

Our town is charming. Main Street is lined with shops selling antiques, art, hiking gear, and clothing to a vibrant tourist trade. It also features a great pizza place, a tolerable Chinese take-out restaurant, and a pretty good French bistro, among other restaurants. But the two places I patronize most frequently are The Country Goose, an eclectic gift shop run by a quirky Welsh woman who happens to have a terrific talent for making up gift baskets; and Merritt Bookstore.

I know that I might sound like a snob; be that as it may, because it's really not about that. It's about getting what I want as a consumer. When I visit Lenore at The Goose, she asks about my kids; I ask about her dog. She knows my taste and shows me new things that will fit my gift-buying needs. Her service is impeccable; it has to be, because her business lives and dies by it. It's the same thing at Merritt. I know if I ask the manager about the latest Barry Underwood or Umberto Eco, she'll have interesting things to say, and she'll give me her honest opinion.

The last Harry Potter party in our town was fantastic. Our kids and lots of their friends dressed up and visited different shops on Main Street that had HP-inspired activities going on. Near midnight, everyone gathered at Merritt, drank punch and ate cookies, and visited while waiting for the magic moment when the boxes could be opened.

Once the clock struck twelve, everyone got his or her copy without the screaming and trampling I've read about at larger, less personal stores. After that, about forty of us--kids of all ages--gathered in the garden behind the bookstore, and staff members took turns reading the first chapter aloud. It was an enchanted evening, pardon the pun, and my kids can't wait for the next one occurring just a few weeks.

One of the reasons I hope never to move away is that we have virtually none of the faceless strip mall sprawl that makes so much of American suburbia look alike: the Applebee's next to the Wal-Mart next to the McDonald's next to the Old Navy. Our town is unique and aesthetically pleasing, and I want to do everything I can to help it stay that way. That means voting with my dollar.

Merritt has two other branches that have thrived for many years; my guess is that this is because they are farther up the Hudson, thus farther from the stiff competition provided by big box stores. I also am betting that Amazon is a player in our bookstore's demise.

I confess that I have used Amazon quite a bit in the past. It's hard beat the convenience, and the prices are pretty great if you conveniently forget about the shipping costs. I've even had their advertising widgets on this blog since nearly the beginning, mainly because I wanted a way to display what I'm currently reading. I'll admit, though, that I thought it wouldn't be a terrible thing if those widgets earned me a little cash.

Well, they're gone now. I've discovered Library Thing. I spent a few leisurely hours this afternoon cataloguing a portion of our large collection. It was like looking through an old yearbook, revisiting these old friends that are my favorite books, one by one. Now they'll appear randomly on my sidebar. (If you happen to click on them, you'll be taken to Amazon's site, but any cash generated thereby will go to support Library Thing, which seems like a really cool service so far. But if you see something intriguing, call your local store instead!)

I'm cutting myself off from Amazon from this day forward. For the next few months, when I need books, I can order them online on Merritt's website and save myself the shipping by picking them up at the store downtown. I know I have some local readers; please find it in your heart to do the same! And spread the word; perhaps we can convince the folks at Merritt that they are very much needed and wanted after all.
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On 17/6/07 , NH Knitting Mama said...

I can understand what you are saying completely. The problem is, the small local stores cannot compete with the "box store" prices. In this day and age of high taxes, high cost of living, and jobs that don't pay enough, I think many people are feeling the crunch and have to be as frugal as they can.

You are lucky to be able to have a nice community that can support the local shops and keep out the strip malls and such.

On 18/6/07 , Luisa Perkins said...

NH--cute new profile photo!

Let me say that I am totally with you on the struggle for keeping costs down at home. I respect that, and I'm not judging anyone, which is why I focused in my post on my own less heroic behavior in the past and the changes I can make myself. I'm also very conscious of how fortunate we are to be able to live here.

I just hope people can reach out a little more often and support local businesses, even if it costs them a bit more. Imagine how sad life would be if the only yarn available to us was the stuff they sell at Michael's (chain craft store they have here)!

On 18/6/07 , Anonymous said...

Noooooooooooooo! Not Merritt bookstore. Oh, I am so deeply saddened by this. We should picket or something. I am guilty too. My Tea and Madeleines post has a picture of Amazon boxes at the top. Should I go and erase it?

An aside, I like the appearance of the Library Thing books on your side bar. They are more about the books and less about Amazon.

On 18/6/07 , Luisa Perkins said...

Kara, no, of course don't erase it! I know well the joy of opening a newly delivered box.

But we have to do something.

Thanks! I like it better, too.

On 18/6/07 , Scott Meyer said...

Merritt Bookstore is selling to a community member or I hope to so that Cold Spring will have an independent bookstore for all time. It is true that much of the community forgets that we are there and with your help perhaps that will change. Did you know that an independent bookstore returns more to the community than any other type of business? 68 dollars out of every 100 dollars is returned. When you buy on the internet none is returned unless it is But more than the money, the Merritt Bookstore is always looking to help others. We think of the community before we think of ourselves. This was brought to my attention when interviewed by an Associated Press reporter from Detroit. At the conclusion of the interview he said what about you what do you get out of Harry Potter night when I had been telling him all the things we were doing to help other business and groups in town. It dawned on me that all these years I had always put the community first. That is the nature of the Merritt Bookstore and why we are the best thing for a community. I am now trying to find the right person or persons to take over the store. Please do support us and the other business in town. We all need your help so we can keep helping the community.

On 18/6/07 , Scott Meyer said...

PS Feel free to use pictures and links from our website And please support the next owner or be the next owner.

On 18/6/07 , rjlight said...

I understand exactly how you feel. That is also part of the reason for our move--we are moving into a more walkable neighborhood with small stores, etc.

On 18/6/07 , Brillig said...

Oh, that's so, so sad. I hate when things have to go that way.

On 18/6/07 , Eileen said...

Hi Luisa...
Thank you for all the nice things you said about Merritt Books. I'm sorry you got the impression that we were closing. I share Scott and our dear landlady Gail's hope that there will always be an independent bookstore at 66 Main St. It's been a great joy for me to serve the community over the last 2 years. Scott has been a great angel to local authors too. When my first novel was published 20 years ago, he was the ONLY bookseller who gave me a party, even though his store at the time sported cinder block shelving! I felt like a queen. Needless to say, we've been friends ever since. I could go on forever about his generosity to the Hudson Valley and to literacy.
Thank you for your wonderful support of the store and our community--
Eileen, the author/manager of Merritt Books Vol III

On 18/6/07 , Luisa Perkins said...

Okay--who wants to go in on a bookstore with me? Anyone? Anyone?

On 18/6/07 , Annette Lyon said...

It's a sad situation, one that affect not just book stores, but all aspects of the culture. It's the WalMartization of America, and I hate it. Sadly, I also hate the fact that family budget is sometimes so stretched that I, too, end up running to WalMart, growling and snarling in the aisles as I go, because I have to save a buck. So what's the answer?

On 20/6/07 , Wayne said...

I think we bibliophiles sometimes cringe a bit at places like Barnes & Noble because, as consumers, the place doesn't do much to reflect the kind of person we are or conceive ourselves to be. With the bookstore chains, you enter the store, get a latte maybe, buy the commodity, maybe even sink into a sofa chair and read for a while, and everything is pleasant and convenient -- but you seldom leave with anecdotes about the cat who was sleeping behind the bookcase full of second-hand mystery novels, or the grumpy storekeeper who ranted and raved about an over-hyped novel, or the cute girl (guy, whatever) you met in the poetry section. The space is very public, less intimate.

On the one hand, I wonder: okay, but does it really matter so much? You buy the book, you take it home, and it's the same damn book regardless of where you got it, right? But, on the other hand, there's an aesthetic and communal aspect to the independent bookseller, I guess, as this blog entry kind of points out. That’s valuable, too.

Thanks for linking to me, by the way.

-- Wayne aka "Desmond"

On 21/6/07 , Josi said...

I'll be a snob with you. We lost our independent store when wal-mart came to town and I was heartbroken. I'm guilty of Wal-mart and Amazon too, but I tried hard to support the store. Then we got a new one, it's been here almost four years and yet when I tell people about my signing parties I do there (advertising, posters all over town, mailers) I'm always so shocked that people don't even know the store exists. I live in a small town, population about 14,000. People should at least KNOW the store exists. And yet more and more indy stores keep closing. Breaks my heart.

I hope everything works out with your book nook, every store needs it's own bookstore--it's a reflection of it's citizens and if we can only see ourselves in the windows of Wal-mart, we'll be missing the whole picture.

On 21/6/07 , Luisa Perkins said...

Scott and Eileen--I'm busy fantasizing about buying the store.

Wayne and Josi--Thanks for the visits! I'm honored.