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What We Gain from a Good Bookstore

The New Yorker – It’s a place whose real boundaries and character are much more than its physical dimensions. “…You may have heard that we’re experiencing a renaissance of the independent bookstore, but the situation is far from rosy. In 1994, when Deutsch started his career as a bookseller (and Amazon was founded), the U.S. was home to around seven thousand independent bookstores; that number was down to just around twenty-five hundred in 2019. Although hundreds of bookstores have opened in the past two years, fewer and fewer bookstores sell just books, Jeff Deutsch, [the head of the legendary Seminary Co-op Bookstores] in Chicago notes. Since books have a relatively small margin of profit, particularly titles published by independent or academic presses, bookstores have had increasingly to abandon their core mission in order to hawk what are called “sidelines,” such as coffee, stationery, candles, and, especially horrifying for Deutsch, socks. (This was, incidentally, Amazon’s founding model: use books to eventually attract customers to other, more profitable items.) Think of what’s happened at the Strand, where a coffee shop recently joined some ground-floor bookshelves and where you can’t adjust your glasses without hitting some Strand-branded merch. Even if you don’t have a problem with socks with quotes on them—or with the fact that the Strand will sell you, say, a foot of “Ember Orange” books for a hundred and thirty-five dollars—it’s not hard to see how a bookstore’s desperate struggle to survive can deplete its less quantifiable richness and literary ambience…”

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