Not that long ago, there were many bookstores near us—Waldenbooks and B. Dalton among them, some in malls, some freestanding. One of our favorites, Booksellers, on US Highway 422 near Cleveland, went under in 1997, buried by Border’s and Barnes & Noble, both of which had built huge new facilities in the vicinity. For some years, we’d had a Friday night routine: Drive to Booksellers and browse and buy—and munch on their great apricot scones. (Which was more appealing? you ask. Scones or books? Depends on what you mean by appealing.) Before Booksellers closed, I got to do a signing there in 1995–96; the University of Oklahoma Press had just published my annotated edition of The Call of the Wild, and I did a little presentation on Jack London and the Klondike Gold Rush, sold a few books—mostly to the families of some of my Harmon School eighth-grade students from nearby Aurora.
More recently, Joseph-Beth, another large seller, closed its store in nearby Beachwood. I sort of liked Joseph-Beth, though they, like other large chains, had diversified their inventory so much—greeting cards, knickknacks, calendars, candles, accoutrements of various kinds—that books sometimes seemed an afterthought. But they did host author visits, many of which Joyce and I attended. I remember seeing Lawrence Block there—and Sena Jeter Naslund, among many others. The only large bookstore within ten miles of us now (besides the local Learned Owl) is, as I said, a Books-a-Million, which, as I said, offers mostly best-sellers and assorted clutter.
There also used to be many antiquarian shops around—in Kent, Cleveland, Akron, and elsewhere. Joyce and I used to have a sort of circuit we would take, hitting the sites in Cleveland and Akron, spending a day at it.
Then … Friday, February 28, 2003.
I’d planned a day with a van-load of some of my Western Reserve Academy students. The school had scheduled what they called a “Project Day”; kids signed up to do things or go places. I got five kids who wanted to go look at old books. I’d told them we would hit some of my favorite used bookstores, have lunch.
But on our trip I discovered to my alarm that two of those shops were no longer open. They’d moved to the Internet. I knew that it made a lot of business sense to do that: Web-surfing book-buyers can browse your inventory from anywhere in the world; you don’t have to wait for someone like me to wander in once every couple of months. Vastly reduced overhead: rent, utilities, insurance, employees, benefits—you no longer need to pay any of it. Still … I felt horribly sad. In front of the second closed shop, some of my students looked at me as if to say: Didn’t you even plan this fucken trip? Guess not.
On the way home, we stopped at a Border’s, where I stuffed my face with a cardboardy muffin. And grieved.