Goodbye Books Etcetera

For the last time, yesterday I went to my local independent bookstore. In its heyday, Books Etc. had two locations—the original in Portland, Maine, and a second store in a shopping center near where I live.

The Portland store, opened in 1973, closed its doors in 2009. Tomorrow the one nearer my house will close, too.

Books Etc. was the ideal place to shop—not only for books but also for the perfect gift. I could get there in fifteen minutes, it was full of wonderful books, and it also had the Etceteras. More importantly, everyone who worked in the store was helpful, they all loved books, and one woman who worked there always knew the perfect book for everyone, even the pickiest of readers. She really knows books; sometimes it felt like she could even read my mind.

In 2009, after the Portland store closed, the store near me seriously downsized. It carried fewer and fewer books and even less Etcetera. Finally it seemed to become primarily a reseller of used books. It was hard to visit what was once a busy, bright, crammed-full store. The store could still special order books for you—but as the owner was quoted in the local paper as saying: the customer would often go out without asking.

I admit that I was guilty of that myself. We live in an immediate gratification society, and if I want something now, I just want it. With Borders’ huge selection just another fifteen minutes away, it was no problem to hop back in the car and zip there to find the same book or the Etcetera. And there, too, I know a woman who really knows books…

But now, with the Borders bankruptcy, I don’t know the fate of our local Borders store, either. Will I only be able to buy books online? That really means the end of instant gratification (I don’t own a kindle).

Beyond the problem of instant gratification, if I shop online I won’t have anyone to give me advice. It won’t be the same, going on and signing in to get “their” personal recommendations. I mean who are they? No friendly face that I know—with the perfect idea of what to buy for everyone on my list or to chat to about their opinions of what’s happening in the book world—or even just another real human person to talk to instead of typing into my computer.

It gives me pause to wonder….are we heading in the right direction? Or an even bigger question: what direction are we heading in? Most of the time I can feel excited and curious about this new journey, with all its possibilities. But today I just feel sad. Sad that I can’t get in the car, drive to Books Etc., and take it all in: the shiny new books, the smell of the ink, the weight of a heavy new book in my hands, and the voice of a trusted friend. Never again.