It’s an article of faith among book lovers, readers and writers that we should at all times and in all places support independent booksellers. I always have. I have gone way out of my way to buy my Harry Potters from indie stores, preferably members of the Association of Booksellers for Children, of which I am a member. When I lived in Nashville and when I go to Memphis, I never go to a chain bookstore. Why should I when the fabulous Davis-Kidd is available for browsing and brunching?
But I have to say, I have had some bad experiences with indies in our nation’s capital. My most recent is the third so far with a venerable indie chain here. I’ll describe all three because this is illustrative of why the chains are gobbling up the indies without even a large belch. I went into a branch of the indie which shall be nameless, looked around in fiction, saw nothing but new releases. I was looking for The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope. I go to the desk and ask if they have it. Young fresh-faced boy says, “Oh, yeah, I think we have that.” He looks on the computer for a while and then says, “Oh, no, we wouldn’t have a book like that.”
Like what? Old? Long?
“We could order it.”
Only a few weeks before I had gone into the same store looking for The Two Towers. Now come on, what bookstore would not stock all three titles of The Lord of the Rings? I didn’t even ask that time because I was so annoyed, and desperate because I had apparently packed the middle volume and sent it with the POD to Nashville (we are trying to move). I needed it so bad I knew I’d be going to Borders on my way home from work since I’d struck out at the indie-bendie. What’s the point of dissing them for being lame?
And I remembered that a couple of years ago at a different branch of this indie store, I went in (see I always go to the indie first) to get the third volume of Jeanne DuPrau’s trilogy that begins with City of Ember. The name of the third volume is Prophet of Yonwood, and I didn’t remember the name exactly, but I knew the author. So it’s not on the shelf. I ask. A lady looks it up. (I should mention that both she and the young man were faintly condescending, but not as bad as the premiere indie in DC, Politics and Prose, where I have always been treated like a bug if I ask a question.) She allows as how it is not yet released. “Humm. I’m sure it’s out,” I said. “Oh, no, dear (subtext, you stupid twit),” she says. So I went that same day to Barnes & Noble and picked one up from the stack on the table display outside the children’s department.
With all this history, I told the fresh-faced snot never mind. But as I left and stood in the hot sun outside, I thought again of how stressed and threatened independent bookstores are and how much poorer my life would be without them, and I went back and asked him, “How long would it take to order it?” He looked at me, vaguely. “Trollope,” I reminded him. Who can expect anyone to remember something that happened, oh, less than a minute ago? “The Prime Minister.” With a faint air of annoyance he goes back to the computer. Finally, he looks up. “I don’t know. Maybe by the end of the week. Maybe a couple of weeks.”
By the way, I checked and they still didn’t have The Two Towers.
In fairness, the Borders on 18th and L that I went to the next day didn’t have it either, but they had a pretty good selection of Trollope and I got The Eustace Diamonds instead. Tonight, in fact, I’m heading to the Borders in Silver Spring to see if they have it.
It’s really sad. That very week the Post had a story that this indie is closing some of its branches to avoid bankruptcy. I don’t want it to go out of business, but if an indie won’t provide better customer service than a mega-chain, maybe it should close up and go home.