Wednesday, June 4, 2008 vs. Chain Bookstores vs. Independent and Used Book Stores

This has been the week for tough questions. I decided that I wanted to volunteer for a certain organization and part of the process was an extensive interview about my interests, my current circumstances, and my past (home life, family, etc.). My interviewer was very nice and personable, but the entire interview vaguely reminded me of therapy. After that experience, I thought that my quota for challenging questions was used up for this week. However, the recent cover of The New Yorker poses some interesting (if somewhat uncomfortable) questions regarding cost and convenience versus supporting local businesses.

I have to admit that, as a poor graduate student who is on the cusp of writing a dissertation, I have shopped in the past. In my defense, the majority of books I have ordered through them were out-of-print books that are difficult to find. However, while is fun to browse, I must admit that I don't get any real pleasure out of it. Part of this is that I like immediate gratification; if I am going to spend money, I like having something to show for it immediately. The other problem I have with is not being able to physically browse books. Shopping online is all well and good if you know exactly what you are looking for; however, if you want a chance to read excerpts and know more than the back blurb has to offer, you are out of luck. The importance of books' physical aspect also prevents me from getting behind e-readers (such as the Kindle). Despite my limited amount of space and the problems that come with owning books (storing them, organizing them, moving them), I still like being able to highlight, note, and otherwise interact with books.

In terms of chain bookstores (Borders, Barnes & Noble, etc.), I must admit that I can be a little ambivalent. (My first job in Boston was at a chain bookstore, so I definitely feel some loyalty to that store.) I could give or take Borders; for some reason, it always seems more expensive than other stores, even though I know that it has the same prices as B&N. On the other hand, I happen to have a very soft spot for B&N. When I first moved to Nashville, I lived very close to a Bookstar that was run by B&N and spent countless hours in the store. (Added bonus: it was inside a converted movie theatre, so it was a particularly cool space.) I still enjoy going to B&N; for some reason, B&N stores always seems quieter and cozier than Borders stores (I know that this is purely subjective). I probably go into a B&N an average of three or four times a week.

With all of that said, I am trying to embrace independent and used book stores. Part of the reason is financial (at least in terms of USBs) and part of the reason is because some of these stores have store cats (I can be very easy to amuse). However, as a person who grew up in a small town, I also want to try and support independent businesses. Although the most popular shopping destination in my hometown was (and continues to be) Wal-Mart, I always had a healthy dose of guilt when shopping there.

Ultimately, this entire dilemma begs the question: Is it possible to still patronize chains and still support small businesses? Right now, that is one question I will have to answer at a later time.