Why save Prairie Avenue Books, anyway?

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Blair Kamin's post in the Chicago Tribunes's Cityscapes blog caught my
eye this weekend. Prairie Avenue Books is closing their doors in September unless they find a buyer willing to take on the shop, as well as its two lines of
credit tallying up at over $650,000. Yow.

Co-owner Wilbert Hasbrouck says he
wants to find a book-loving, tech-savvy 35-year-old with the
inclination to expand the bookstore's online presence, adding that if
that could come together, "I'm convinced that
it would not just be profitable, but would be what it is by
reputation--the best architectural bookshop in the world." I sat
daydreaming at my desk for a moment after reading that, both about what
my life would look like as a bookstore owner (I am both book- and
tech-inspired, I already have a cat fond of plopping down on stacks of
books, and I do already rock the geek-chic glasses), and how to go
about
putting out the call to help save the bookstore. Because, let's be
clear: we need to really make every effort to save bookstores; it pains
me to see them thinning out.

Mature
bookstore, some debt, interests include architecture and books,
seeking passionate book-lover with financial independence and tech savvy
for late nights and long days. Must be willing to commit to serious
long-term relationship by September 1st.

Cute, I thought, as I
sent my bookstore personal ad and the link to Kamin's post to a friend
who has, on many occasions over the years, spoken of owning a
bookstore. "When you wish upon a star..." I added in the subject line
and hit send. Later, my friend replied. "Don't I wish," she wrote, "but
I don't have the stomach to go up against Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
It's a shame to say, but they're probably better off letting a museum
or Chicago Architecture Foundation absorb them as a gift shop. At least
then they'll be cross-promoted to the people who care about
architectural books. Still, ouch. Hate to see it go."

That's all
any of us can say: we hate to see bookstores go. And we do. But why? I accept
that the only given in the world is change. Sure. But is it
technology-resistance bringing on the cringe? (Even the most die-hard
no-dead trees, pro-eReader folks I know hate to see bookstores close up
shop) Natural displeasure in misfortunes, then? (That can't be it;
reality television is too popular) Fear of the unknown? Reluctance to
see long-standing givens come to an end? Guilt over Amazon orders and
quick dashes to big-box bookstores?

Whatever the reason, the
more important question is: what are we doing about it? What are we
doing to support Chicago independent bookstores
like Prairie Avenue
Books? Because even if an eleventh-hour techie-booky sugarperson surfaces to
save Prairie Avenue, a bookstore owner can only do so much; Ultimately,
a community decides whether local independent bookstores close or
thrive.

(For
great ideas and info about the importance of local, independent
bookstores, visit IndieBound's "Why Support Independents" resource.)

Filed under: news, places

Tags: bookstores, chicago tribune

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  • Most of the used bookstores I've been to in the last few years have their stock up online, whether it be Amazon or whatever. Under the penciled price on the inside cover, there'll be some other kind of code; the proprietor is behind the counter on a computer hardly looking up. It seems they stay open because they're adapting.

    Like everyone else, it seems, I love the used bookstores--and when I go in, I have a few specific hard-to-find titles I keep an eye out for. But for the most part, I order all books directly from small-press websites or Amazon.

    I miss the mailbox that used to be down the street until it was hit by a car, and the post office decided it wasn't worth replacing. It's heart breaking, but, yeah, unless the community really supports them, what can you do?

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