When a Bookstore Closes

Josie Leavitt - March 6, 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.


9 thoughts on “When a Bookstore Closes

  1. Ellen R

    Amen. Here in Maine, people are reeling with the news that hit last week. The small Maine based chain, Mr Paperback, is closing after nearly 50 years. I worked for them for 20 years. Their 10 remaining stores will be gone by May 1 and will leave a big void in a number of small communities.

  2. Linda Austin

    Unfortunately there are too many people not supporting their local book stores. I understand the lure of WalMart/Amazon prices, but a person has to put his money where his mouth is. I don’t think people realize they also pay for the experience of having a pretty storefront, a fun place to go and browse and chat, meet an author, get attentive customer service. The sensory experience of going to any indie store is so much richer than going into a brightly lit, big box overload or sitting at home clicking buy buttons via computer. I guess us indie-lovers are too rare.

  3. Nichole Bernier

    How sad. And I know how she feels. Edgartown Books on Martha’s Vineyard recently announced it is closing, too.
    I keep an informal bookstore death watch for our literary blog BeyondTheMargins.com, not because I like to, but because I feel someone has to bang the gong each time. That a place mattered, and will be missed.

  4. L Giles

    I buy most of my books from small independent bookstores and from thrift stores. I will not buy an e-reader until it is impossible for me to get a new book any other way.
    It’s like when record stores died, and that made me just as sad. Bookstores are my home away from home– my sanctuary– the places I have always had to escape to. When they go away, they won’t come back.

  5. Ricky Grove

    Sad, but very good article. Here in Los Angeles we’ve lost at least 50% of our bookstores. Mostly due to real estate and rent spikes. Our store is going strong though and there are one or two new stores that have opened, so there is some small reason to be optimistic. Sure sorry to read the news about Mr. Paperback and Voltaire Books.

  6. Ed Renehan

    Look, even the big chain bookstores – let alone the small indies – are quite simply anachronisms given the swift and steady rise of digital publishing. Get over it. Paradigms shift. Things change. The creative destruction of old market models is not a spiritual catastrophe, just a market reality.

  7. Tone Blevins

    Yes, it is sad and disheartening that so many small, wonderful bookshops close. In this economic climate, many small wonderful stores of all kinds are having to close or re-shuffle their priorites. Yes, most communities still need and will support a “great good place,” which is 50% of what the traditional bookshop was. But it is foolish to simply bemoan the passing of these stores and affirm that the present day is shallow and w/o values. Some accomodation must be made with current realities. If you are an owner/manager, you would be well served to begin to understand Why certain retail establishments continue to thrive and to begin the (sometimes!) painful process of change if you wish to survive…

  8. David Didriksen

    Despite the snarky comments by Ed, not every rapid cultural shift deserves to be celebrated. If someone wants to mourn the passing of an important cultural icon in the life of their community, only an insensitive clod would deny their right to do so.

  9. Ruth Erb

    The battle between common sense and my emotions continues. I should close my 31year old Book People, but do not want to. We lose $ every day. But I love the work and enjoy as well as learn from and help our appreciative customers. There simply are not enough of them any more. Give up? Scrounge for an energetic book-person who will work for minimum wage knows how to promote, promote, promote?? I will be 80 years old this year and technology-know-how eludes me.


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