When a Bookstore Closes

Josie Leavitt -- March 6th, 2012

I got the most interesting call from a customer yesterday morning. She’s an excellent customer who I knew was in Key West until April. I thought she was calling to order a book or to talk about a new book she just loves. But no, she was calling to let me know that her favorite bookstore down there, Voltaire Books, had closed.

At first I didn’t understand why she was telling me. Then she said, “I just had to tell you, because you’d understand how sad I am.” She was really sad. I could hear the edge of tears in her voice. Honestly, by the time we got off the phone, I was close to tears myself. To hear from a customer the real void that was left with the store’s closing really got to me.

Barbara has spent six weeks a year in Key West for years. Voltaire Books was her place to go. She loved everything about it. From its eclectic selection to its being off the beaten path, Barbara adored going to the store and it made her trips to Key West even more special. She even told me before she went away how much she was looking forward to visiting the store during her time in Key West.

The store appears to have closed in July of last year and according to an article in keynews.com, co-owner Peter Rogers blamed the closure on a combination of factors. “Of course, e-books are hurting us, the Kindle and the Nook,” he said. “But you’ve also got Walmart.com selling a $28 book for $9.99.” It’s shocking to me that a place with a literary tradition as rich as Key West cannot support an independent bookstore that sells only new books.

What touched me the most about the phone call was the need to share to news with someone. Okay, there was one other motive for her call; Barbara wanted to make sure that we were not in any peril of closing before she came home. I reassured her our plan was to remain open for a long time.

The ripple effect of a store closing is vast. It’s like an expert has skimmed a rock on a pond. Every bounce caused distress to all involved. So, a store closing in Key West affects folks as far away as Vermont. I don’t know Voltaire Books, but I’m sad for them. We all fight the same fights and I hope that all bookstores can win, but it’s unrealistic to think that all of us will come out on top.

So, the moral of this story is sometimes you never know what’s going to close or when, and the best way to ensure that the store you love stays open is to keep shopping there for all your books, in all formats.


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