Friday, February 13, 2004
A bookstore is more than just books
It seems such a silly reason to be saddened, but the recent upheaval at The Concord Bookshop has left me feeling bereft. The board of directors that has owned the store for years suddenly decided that it no longer agreed with the direction in which the three store managers had been taking the bookshop in recent times. This "new" direction included selling magazines, sponsoring author series and supporting outside fundraisers like the Carlisle School Association's annual book sale at the store in the fall. Just before the holidays in November, the managers were asked to step down. Once the news was out, staff members protested to the board, but to no avail. By the end of January, 15 staff members had resigned.
Anyone for whom the Concord Bookshop was a spiritual home will have noticed the change in the past few weeks. On a recent visit, I saw store shelves that were only partially filled with books, and three separate phone calls, taken by three separate staffers, were answered with essentially the same reply. "I'm sorry, I can't help you." Those excellent staffers who always seemed to know exactly what I was looking for — gone. The people who took the time to remember what books I liked, and what books interested my daughter — gone. An ad in the Concord Journal brought it sadly home to me, as I looked at the photos of many who have left the store and read their farewell sentiments to their customers. How like them to feel such an attachment to their fellow readers that they couldn't leave without saying goodbye. There was no word of recrimination in the ad; it was just a note of gratitude for years of public support.
I guess the store's board of directors simply doesn't get it. With so many reasons not to shop at The Concord Bookshop (Willow Books has better parking and they serve food; Barnes and Noble has a larger selection and deep discounts; Amazon.com is just a few clicks away), for me there really were only two reasons to go there — a chance to talk books with savvy people and a feeling of loyalty to a store where I have had an account since the day I moved to Concord 27 years ago.
Over the years, the bookshop provided my children with their first experiences in choosing and buying books, and managed to make it a special treat every time. The various author series have allowed me to meet writers of every ilk, right in my own backyard. I even harbored a secret fantasy for years — that one day, I would be lucky enough to work there, among that enviable company of fine book people. To see what has happened to the spirit of the place in a few short months comes near to breaking my heart.
I'll recover, of course, and find other venues from which to buy my books. (I'll admit it — when things fell apart at the Concord Bookshop, I finally went to Barnes and Noble and became a member of their discount club.) It'll take me longer to understand, though, how something that made the Concord Bookshop so very special in this impersonal age could be treated so cavalierly by the powers that be.
© 2004 The Carlisle Mosquito