Being a Hero Is Easier Than You Think

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News broke this week that Barnes and Noble is closing a third of their brick-and-mortar stores. I know the idea of losing more bookshops is upsetting to a lot of people (I know because they’ve told me, and because my Twitter feed blew up with the news), and their sadness is compounded by the idea that there’s nothing we can do about it. Lots of people still feel loyalty to the idea of a neighborhood bookshop, and even more people are still dedicated to the paper book. But they feel like change is inevitable — that saving what they love is hopeless.

I’m here to tell you that all is not lost. It’s actually really easy to save bookshops (and to cast your vote for paper, if that’s your thing). Here’s what you do: Buy one book every month at a bookshop, instead of online.

“Just one book? Does that even make a difference?” Yes — it really does. As a bookstore owner, it kind of pains me to say that, because honestly I want you to buy all your books from me. (In fact, I’d like you to line the walls of your house with books that came from Church Street, to buy so many books that you distress your accountant and cause your friends to wonder if you have a weird paper fetish.)

But the thing is, that’s not even necessary. You can keep brick-and-mortar shops open by at least prioritizing buying from us sometimes. If that leads to all the time, great. If not, at least some of your money is making a difference for good. And, if you really want to make that money count for your city and neighborhood, spend it at a local bookshop instead of a chain. For one thing, way more of your money will go into building a better community (big chains send more money out of state, and Amazon pays so little in taxes it’s almost laughable). But if your goal is to save the shop around the corner,* it makes sense to buy locally because the decisions to keep the store open or close it are also made locally. Let’s face it — even if your “local” Barnes and Noble makes tons of money, the powers that be don’t live here, and there’s no guarantee they won’t shut it down anyway.

I promise: Local bookshops have more to offer than you think we do. We can tell you if that popular book you’re about to buy is really a waste of time, or if it’s totally worth it. We can suggest books that an algorithm wouldn’t connect you with. We can even offer you eBooks that are just as good (I think better) than Amazon’s, and if we don’t have a book we can get it here for you in just a day or two. And, let’s face it: Having a bookshop in your community — a place where you can find a comfortable chair and a cup of coffee and a great new story — just has a certain romance to it. It’s a romance that I don’t want to lose, and I have a feeling that you don’t, either.

Really consider buying from your local shop. Beyond that, think about stopping your online book purchasing altogether. Amazon is bad for business, bad for communities, and bad for books. If you can’t afford more than one full-price book a month, try what impoverished bibliophiles have done for ages, and use the library. Yes, you may not get the latest stuff immediately, but that’s what your once-a-month local book buy is for, right? Your librarians and your booksellers have amazing ideas, insight and knowledge into what you’ll enjoy reading. Please, let us share it with you.

Carrie Rollwagen is co-owner and book buyer at Church Street Coffee & Books.

* Blatant You’ve Got Mail reference.

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