I went by Cody’s yesterday, because I was early to meet Puff in San Francisco, and I thought my friend might be working. I also wanted to pop in and pay my respects, so to speak, because yesterday was the San Francisco store’s last day. Cody’s had three locations not that long ago; now they only have one, on Fourth Street in Berkeley.
While the San Francisco store was relatively new, it was still sad to see it go. Cody’s used to be a bastion of the Bay Area independent bookselling community. I remember going into the one in Berkeley as a wee lass, when my father and I weren’t going to Green Apple on Clement Street. I’m worried about the survival prospects for Cody’s…store closures, one by one, seem like a bad sign.
Independent bookstores in general seem to be suffering, despite efforts within their communities to save them.
Personally, I like going into a physical bookstore and looking at books, talking to knowledgeable staff, and ordering books that I want to read. Heck, if I’m feeling lazy, I can still order books to be delivered through a real bookstore. It’s funny, because I don’t like people, and I don’t like going out, but I really do like going into a physical store. And I don’t like going to chains, because the staff seem like depressed automatons, going through the rote of a series of prescribed motions. I like going to independents because the staff is passionate and into it. I feel more of a connection, and like people are genuinely interested. I also just love wandering the stacks, seeing so much possibility.
I’m also willing to pay more for this, and some people…are not. I can certainly understand that…books are expensive. I choose not to buy organic because I cannot afford it, and people do not shop at independent bookstores because they feel like they cannot afford it. The stores cannot get the big discounts that big chains do when they order, so they cannot pass the savings on to consumers. Which is a pity. Maybe I don’t have my priorities straight…after all, my choice of bookstores probably does not heavily impact the environment. Or does it? It seems like locally owned bookstores might have a more passionate commitment to community and conservation. They also keep money within the community, which may indirectly support the environment through creating a robust local economy. Or maybe I’m full of it.
It certainly does impact wages for booksellers, working conditions, and the level of pleasure that someone takes in their job. It also impacts communities, and the sense of community felt by the people who live within a small town or neighborhood. My favourite job, ever, was working for a bookstore. I loved it. I loved getting the new books, talking about books, getting customers into new authors, being surrounded by literature. I lived for it. The store I worked for was independent, they took decent care of their employees, and it was a pretty great place to be, all round. I cared about our customers, and they cared about me. I don’t think that I would have felt the same way about working in a chain bookstore, though.
I don’t know.
I felt sort of sad, wandering around Cody’s today, looking at the stripped and barren shelves and the sad looking employees. I’m not sure I like this world that I live in, of chains and bitterness. I noted that the Barnes and Noble across the street in the Westfield Centre was doing just fine.
Although it was sort of a futile gesture, I bought a book, Geisha, A Life, by Mineko Iwasaki. I’m liking it a lot, so far.