I generally take a market approach to business news. If some big business failed I would usually chalk it up to a series of logical reasons and move on. I didn’t shed a tear when Marshall Field’s became Macy’s, or when Blockbuster stores started to get shuttered. I’m not exactly sure how I feel about the news that Borders will be closing. Books are near and dear to my heart, and there once was a time when Borders was the cool bookstore.

It was, but that was a couple decades ago, and it got me thinking about what makes a good bookstore. I think the better bookstores do not become chains, or if they do, they’re small ones. Examples might include 57th Street/Seminary Co-op Books, the old Barbara’s or Powell’s (way out in Portland, Ore.). To me these examples represent a time when one went to a bookstore to see what they were selling — what they thought was worth reading. That was the appeal: The bookseller knew his audience and tried to cater to it.

Once the Amazons of the world appeared, it seems to me these wonderful bookstores felt they had to compete with both selection and price. To me they never needed to. Amazon.com never once got Studs Terkel to do a reading, but Barbara’s sure as hell did. The edge the smaller stores had was their worldview, on display and for sale on their racks.

It’s a bit like a good restaurant isn’t it? Cook up something as a good as you can, and put it out there on the table. But by God, the menu better only be two pages long. Please, don’t try and be all things for all people. Food or books.

Maybe it’s just irony, but it looks like one of the last purchases I will ever make at a Borders was the new edition of “Colors.” The theme of this issue is “transportation.” More to the point, it discusses how on Earth will we get around once the oil is gone. People will have to simplify, go back to bikes, walk, horses and buggies. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, I’m sure. Turn the page.

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Dave Coulter

I have been a horticulturist for thirty years working in the Chicago area and beyond. I have lived in Oak Park for over thirteen years. My writing has recently appeared in the journal Ecological Restoration...

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