Goodbye Chain Store

My son used to have this amazing recording of a traveling preacher with a strong gospel voice recorded during the Great Depression. The preacher was railing against the danger of the chain store.  How on earth did he know? I only heard the recording once, driving around the south side of Chicago near the university campus. But the voice of the preacher will be inside my brain forever. His voice was far away. There was no real sound technology in those days. “No more chain stow,” he railed.

My son’s car radio and all his tunes were stolen some time later and he never could find that recording again.   Now as we face the end of the chain store, and I mean specifically the closing of Barnes and Noble, the big store that was the gateway to the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, I find myself wanting to stand on a street corner and rail for the return of the chain store. Our Third Street Promenade branch was never a really good book store, not like the big B & N in New York in the eighties on the Upper West Side. Or even the West Side Pavilion branch that closed five or so years ago and was replaced with a furniture store. But was it was indeed a bookstore with real books, floors of them.  

Barnes and Noble I miss you, I’d cry.

Barnes and Noble, who will replace you?  Barnes and Noble, you might have killed off the mom and pop, but what will we do without you?

I used to complain about the Barnes and Noble employees, you’d go in there and ask for Imre Kertesz, or even Kafka and the male or female behind the desk would invariably say, “who?”  And then ask you to spell out the name so he or she could enter it painstakingly in the computer and tell you, “no.” Even the year Kertesz won the Nobel this happened to me at B&N.

At the rival Borders, however, (remember Borders?  First they were big book, then they became big candle, big coffee mug?)  Their store became a Ross Dress for Less in Westwood. In Santa Monica it is now Forever 21.   Borders always had Irme Kertesz –because somewhere, somebody in management loved books and was in the biz of books.  Unlike Amazon, who put the books biz out of biz first—and then everybody else after that. Amazon, you don’t know jack about books.  You killed off the bookstore and yet you didn’t even have an idea about what you were doing. Or did you? You know a lot about marketing, a lot about toilsome things like stars.

Farenheit 451 used to be the scariest book I could think of.  It was right up there with The Haunting of Hill House, The Shining and The Turn of the Screw.  Amazon is far scarier than a book burning.  We don’t even have to light the match for an auto de fe. We have done this to ourselves, and we do it to ourselves every time we hit the place your order button to save a few dollars and a trip to the store. Now, even the big chain book stores are over.  Which means, I’m sorry to say, books as we knew them and loved them could be over too. I hope not.

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