When I lived in Tennessee, used book stores were huge. I mean that in every possible sense of the word ‘huge’; they were hugely popular (could hardly find a parking spot), they were in these huge buildings (like warehouse stores), there were huge lines at the checkout and the shelves were huge and stocked with anything and everything you could possibly imagine (the SciFi/Fantasy section was MASSIVE). I did find a couple of smaller places that had really more niche inventory (older, out of print, specialty, small press stuff), but for the most part, these huge, locally owned places were the ones where you could find what you were looking for.
I have to insert here that going to the bookstore is just so much fun. The smell of the books, the fun of pouring through an endless amount of piles to try and find what you’re looking for – it reminds me of the old days and going through the bins at the comic book store trying to find that one issue that will ‘complete your collection’ (at that time). The large chain stores are great (they stock just about everything) but sometimes I want to smell the books, not the coffee brewing in the Starbucks tumor growing on the side of the place. End insertion.
Since moving to Colorado and with the exception of the Tattered Cover (which has its own issues really), most of the used book places I’ve seen have been very small mom and pop type places, which is great, except when people who aren’t very friendly get involved.
The big places I mentioned – there was always someone running around to help if you needed it. It could be annoying – there’s that fine line between being helpful and my wanting to throw things at you because you’re the twelfth person in the last five minutes to come up and ask me if I’m finding everything all right. That’s right BestBuy – I’m talking about you… The mom and pop places I’ve seen, they run the other extreme: they don’t want to help you at all.
I walked into a little ‘hole in the wall’ used book store near my house – this is the second such place I’ve visited in the past year or so. I noticed it one day while driving home and thought, “ooo – I need to check that out!”. Seemed nice enough – had a lot of stock, but it didn’t seem to be very well organized / I couldn’t figure out what was where and which section I was in. I looked around and there was an older lady seated behind the counter reading a book. I walked up and said, “Excuse me?” and she didn’t look up. “I’m looking for the Scifi/Fantasy section?” I said next. Rolling her eyes, she put a bookmark into her book, set it down and pointed me in the direction I needed to be saying, “There ARE signs up.” Oh. Signs. I looked. I couldn’t see them. She pointed to small cards on the sides of shelves. Oh. Those really small signs that blend right into the shelves because there’s no contrasting color to differentiate them. Gotcha. Okay then.
My mood was soured by her attitude. I wandered around and noticed that now, she was watching me like I was some sort of unsavory character that she wasn’t sure could be trusted. WTF? I ended up leaving without buying anything.
I’m sure that not all mom and pop places are like this one, in fact, I’m sure that most aren’t. But this one was. I wasn’t surprised to see this place was gone a month later – space was empty in the little strip mall as I drove by. It made me a little sad because I knew that if a different person had been working that day, someone with a better attitude, I probably would’ve bought something or at the least, come back again to check and see if they had anything new/different worthy of my attention (used book store inventories change a lot as people trade stuff in for other stuff).
With the economy on the downturn and people looking for ways to save money, I see more and more of us checking out the used book, cd, dvd and game stores (Gamestop, anyone?) looking for bargains. For some people, it won’t matter how they’re treated in that store because the bargain is the important thing, but for me, I want the bargain sure, but I would also like to be treated well and apparently I’m not alone.
After all, that store did close up shop.