Just this week another bookshop has closed its doors in my neighbourhood. This wasn't one of the big chains like Borders, who closed their collective doors in 2011. It was just another local small ma & pa owned shop who couldn't compete with the online giants. Though I myself do a lot of online buying -- after all it's often the best deal by a long shot, and if you buy as many books as I do, that's a pretty important factor-- I can't deny that I miss the hours I spent in the local shop, fingering the titles, purchasing books on impulse, and having conversations with strangers over what either of us was carrying in our trolley. There was always such a nice feeling in those places, especially the local one where I knew the booksellers by name and where they knew my tastes enough to not only recommend books to me but to order and hold them when an author they knew I loved had come out with a new novel. I also loved the way bricks and morter bookstores bridged the gap between reader and writer -- offering signings, readings, chats and other fun events. That kind of intimacy is slowly disappearing and online events, while still pretty wonderful, aren't quite the same.
So we all know where the online bookshops are, but are there any bricks and morter stores worth visiting? Well yes there really still are some. If you live in the USA, there are Barnes & Nobles everywhere and they're even longer running and bigger than Borders were. In NYC alone, there are some 58 stores. In the US as a whole, there are 691 shops. That's a lot of bookstores, and the nice thing about B&N are that they're also online, which means that prices are as cheap as anywhere. Of course B&N are hardly "intimate" and personal. Nor are they 'independent' so you won't get that warm fuzzy feeling from supporting them, and it's unlikely they'll be flexible in terms of supporting local authors or catering to your unusual literary tastes. If you're looking for somewhere more independent, you could try The Strand bookstore in NYC.
I have to admit that this was my favourite haunt as a youngster and it still rates higher than the Statue of Liberty for me when visiting NY as a tourist. But we don't all live in NYC! For the top indie bookstores in the US, check out http://www.bookmarket.com/top700.htm
If you live in the UK, you could try one of the following bookstores, some of which are so beautiful, they deserve to be coffee table books themselves (and forget Black Books - the customer service is brilliant): http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/gallery/2010/jun/14/your-favourite-bookshops-booksellers
If you live in my locale, you could try MacLeans: http://www.macleans.indies.com.au in Toronto or Hamilton NSW. They don't serve great coffee like some of the London shops, but they're well stocked and are always willing to order in books (including mine if you ask!).
The one thing that many of these indies have in common is that they don't do a tremendous amount of advertising. You'll need to look a bit to find them, maybe asking around or checking the local directory, but if, like me, you're the sort of tactile person who loves browsing, holding, and playing with books, it's worth supporting these shops, be-friending the owner or proprietors, and participating in their literary events.
About the author: Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at http://www.magdalenaball.com