Saturday, April 25, 2009

Ch-ch-ch-changes. Wah!

I realize nothing lasts forever, especially not in an economy like this.  When I was a kid, the auto industry drove the American economy.  Now GM and Chrysler are headed to bankruptcy court to be parted out.  Every week another icon collapses into the dust.  As I tell my kids, life is hard.

But Sam Weller's!  I know, it's not closing, just relocating.  But that relocation is part of a larger malaise.  The purpose of a bookstore was not merely to have the book you wanted; it was to have the book you could stumble across.  And then have a corner someplace where you could flip through it.  And then have other books by that author.  It was a place to get lost in on a rainy day.  Sam Weller's was that kind of place.

Now it's downsizing because it simply can't fill that space any more.  It can't have high shelves of stumble-upon books.  It can't have side aisles and corners to tuck away in.  The market simply won't support it, the same way the market won't support a newspaper you can sit at the kitchen table and read.  Oh, the new store will still have an excellent selection of books.  But it won't be a place to get lost in.  It won't even smell right.

The owners of Sam Weller's are making a smart business decision, and I don't begrudge it at all.  If you want to keep the doors open, you need to stay out in front of shifting customer demands.  I don't expect business owners to subsidize my peculiar passions.  But at some point society must ask itself what it loses when it decrees that immersing oneself in the language is an unaffordable luxury.  How impoverished must a society be when it has so devalued its ultimate form of exchange?

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