Monday, June 18, 2012

Your local bookstore is...thriving?

I spent the past weekend in Seattle, accepting the Locus Award for Tim Powers' short story collection, The Bible Repairman.  It was a whirlwind trip, in Friday morning, out Saturday night.  Talked to many old friends, made a few new ones, and managed to escape without too much ridicule from Toastmaster Connie Willis for lacking the proper attire for the Hawaiian shirt contest that accompanies the award ceremony.

I always feel a strange sense of unreality when I visit Seattle, like the opposite of déjà vu.  I went to school nearby and lived there for about three years in the late 1980s.  Suffice it to say, Seattle has undergone major changes.  I had some time on my hands prior to the Friday events and wandered about the area adjacent to the Seattle Center, visiting a few old haunts, matching old memories to what is there now.

A Thai restaurant I used to frequent was still there, as was Kidd Valley—a very pedestrian fast-food chain that inexplicably carried boysenberry milkshakes with real chunks of boysenberries.  They still do.  The most shocking thing, the shop I least expected to see, was Mercer Street Books.  

Back in the 1980s, this tiny used-bookstore faced an enormous Tower Books directly across the street.  Tower, which went out of business since the mid 90s, was the equivalent of Barnes & Noble or the recently departed Borders chain, only with a larger and more eclectic selection.  Mercer Street Books with its tall, narrow wooden shelves seemed threadbare and destined for the slag heap of time.  Today, Mercer Street Books appears to be thriving.  I bought a couple of books and chatted a bit with the clerk.  

I talked with a couple of other booksellers that weekend, too, ones who'd made the trip for the Locus Awards.  Obadiah Baird told me how well his stores, The Book Bin, in Salem & Corvallis, Oregon, has also thrived, even branching out into selling new books since the local Borders shut down late last year.  That seems to be the case nationwide.  Smaller, independent shops that have weathered the battle of the chain bookstores are thriving, at least temporarily—as long as Borders, not Barnes and Noble, was their main competition.  It's the best news the book industry has had in a long, long time.

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