Where Have All The Bookstores Gone?

No, that’s hardly an original observation.  It’s pretty clear to everyone who loves books that the world has changed, but I found myself thinking about it the other day, and making a list of those that have vanished from my corner of the world.

When Jack and I moved to this area, near the Johnson Space Center, between Houston and Galveston, in 1976, from a retail perspective we were in the middle of nowhere.  We were used to that–we’d moved from New Iberia, Louisiana.  We didn’t much care that the nearest shoe store was fifteen miles away, but we did set out to find books.

Back then there were two sources of new books nearby: a newstand with a substantial paperback rack (and paperbacks were pretty much all we could afford) and an independent book store, Allen Maxwell Books, located across from the Space Center.  Not surprisingly, Maxwell specialized in nonfiction and science fiction, which was fine with me.   We soon hunted down every used bookstore between Houston and Galveston, and there were a lot of them, ranging from paperback exchanges to permanent flea market stalls to serious dealers in military history (Jack’s specialty).

By the early 1980s Baybrook Mall sprang up like a giant mushroom and suddenly we not only had shoe stores nearby, we had bookstores, Waldenbooks and B. Dalton’s.  And then, oh joy, Bookstop moved in across from the mall, with a huge assortment of books, good prices, and even a discount program.  A few miles up the Interstate, MediaPlay opened a store.  MediaPlay not only had books, it had computer software (and I had a computer), music on tape and movies on video cassettes (hey, this was twenty plus years ago).  Heaven.

I think our local Half-Price Books opened in the mid to late 1980s, followed by a big bookstore that might have been a Crown store, but I don’t remember (and there’s an HEB grocery store there now).  That store never seemed to thrive, and didn’t stay around long, and that might have been an early sign of things to come.  By then I was hearing about a new source of books called Amazon.com.

So the Crown store, if that’s what it was, closed, and so did the MediaPlay.  But that didn’t stop Barnes & Noble from opening a store in the neighborhood–good.  But B&N also bought the Bookstop chain, and soon closed ours–bad, although you couldn’t really blame them.  Bookstop was practically on their doorstep, and had a better discount program.

The independent bookshops and the paperback exchanges were already falling by the wayside by the time Borders built a big store directly across the street from Barnes & Noble.  That never made much sense to me, but I shopped there from time to time.

But not all that often.  I had been a member of at least two of the Doubleday mail order clubs for decades, buying mysteries and science fiction from them since our New Iberia days, and over the years I bought more and more books on line.   Specific used books were easier to find through sites like Alibris than by searching used bookstores, although Jack and I enjoyed recreational book browsing, something that really doesn’t work on line.

Last year the Borders closed.  I didn’t realize it until I started thinking about this, but both of the mall chains, B. Dalton’s and Waldenbooks, are gone.  Most of the independents and paperback shops in this area have disappeared, although some survive in Houston: Murder by the Book, Katy Budget Books, and Blue Willow Bookshop, for example, all of which do business on line as well as in store.

I still belong to three Doubleday Book Clubs, science fiction, mystery, and romance.  I order from Amazon often, and not just for my Kindle.  But sometimes I want to wander through a bookstore and search the shelves for books I never knew I wanted.  Out here in the southeastern corner of Harris County, we have a thriving Half Price Books, and Barnes & Noble.  And not much else.  Yes, Wal-Mart and Target and Kroger carry books, and I’m glad of it, but it’s not quite the same.

The RWA chapters I belong to give away little prizes now and then, for various accomplishments and contributions, traditionally B&N gift cards.  It’s been suggested recently that we should switch to Amazon cards.  I love Amazon cards.  But I’m going to hold out for B&N cards.  We’re writers, and we don’t want to see any more bookstores disappear.  Do your part.  Buy a book now and then.  At a bookstore.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Peach Farm Studio
    Jan 29, 2012 @ 00:23:29

    Absolutely, positively, yes!

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  2. JanCCrow
    Jan 29, 2012 @ 07:55:24

    I agree with the demise of the bookstores. It’s a horrible thing not to be able just to go browse and see what you can find anymore. Along with the demise of the bookstores I have found that those that are left have very few employees who have an extreme book knowledge. Murder By The Book has to be the exception. Every employee can direct you to a new author based on your reading habits or give a short synopsis of books when you inquire. It’s amazing. That’s what I really miss. Where have the reader employees gone?

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  3. Cheryl Bolen
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 10:05:25

    What a fabulous post! It’s a sad(der) world. Remember when you went to Baybrook or other malls, there would always be a Waldenbooks? Who would have ever thought…

    As an author, I hate to admit how many used books I’ve bought over the years (because authors don’t get a single cent from such sales), but I really, really miss the used book stores which used to be located every five miles or so. Hundreds of hours I spent in those places.

    But I’m also extraordinarily guilty that I buy a huge percentage of my books, both paper and E, with just one or two clicks.

    Brilliant point about hanging on for the B&N gift card. If every person would just do one thing to help the “physical” book stores, they might hang on a while longer.

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  4. Trackback: Changes in Book Buying | Kay Hudson

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