Gramma, what’s a book store?

Both of my girls tell the same story.

When they were growing up, money was tight. I was a single parent who did not receive child support. I was happy when I could cover bills, pick up necessities and treat the girls to a McDonald’s Happy Meal from time to time.

They received toys as birthday gifts and Christmas presents, not as impulse purchases when we stopped by Kmart (in those pre-WalMart days) to pick up cleaning supplies, toiletries and socks. That is not to say they didn’t look – we always made a detour through the toy section. We just didn’t buy.

Then, we’d walk down to Waldenbooks to browse a little more. Inevitably, my resolve would weaken there, and they would each get to pick out a new book while I picked up something off the bargain book table. They remember this.

“Mom never had money for toys,” Sara told her future husband the first time we met, while we were sitting around a table at Borders in Rapid City drinking coffee, “but she always bought us books.”

Katie has told friends the same thing. With the news this week that Borders, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February, would close all of its stores by September, I find myself wondering whether I will be able to share the marvelous experience of browsing through bookstores with my grandgirls.

Granted, Amazon.com is convenient. A few weeks ago, my brother emailed me to ask about some books on Catholicism for his granddaughters, and within a matter of hours, I was able to send three age-appropriate books their way.

But, buying books online, convenient though it may be, doesn’t offer the same pleasure that walking through a bookstore does. I do the same thing every time I step through the doors of a bookstore. I take a deep breath, as though I could inhale the wisdom contained within those walls, and let my eyes wander over the rows of books. Only a church can fill me with that same sense of awe.

However, between Amazon.com and e-readers, bookstores are becoming threatened habitats. Borders is closing, which probably means the remaining Waldenbooks stores, too, since it’s a Borders subsidiary. Barnes and Noble is for sale, having closed it’s B. Dalton stores in recent years.

Sadly, few small, locally-owned bookstores remain in areas where the superstores cropped up. In another century, when I started college, Brookings had several little bookstores – one or two on Medary near campus, in an area which has since been consumed by South Dakota State University, and a couple downtown.

Then, Waldenbooks moved in. The children’s bookstore closed. The other downtown store diversified, becoming a gift store, and the others closed. Ten years later, Waldenbooks pulled out when mall management increased the rent, making the store less than viable. The gift shop downtown increased its selection of books again, but doesn’t carry children’s books.

That’s not an isolated incident. That’s part of a pattern seen across the country.

So, if we don’t have bookstores that are part of nationwide chains and we don’t have local bookstores, where will my grandgirls and I go to share the adventure of finding the latest book in a favorite series or a new author? Where will we sit on the floor challenged by the need to choose between all of the books that appeal to our imaginations?

Times change, I know. When I was a kid, personal computers didn’t exist, phones were connected to the wall and long distance calls were paid for by the minute. When I was a kid, cameras had film which took two weeks to process, and the local theater showed one movie, sometimes for two weeks in a row.

I concede that point. But, why must bookstores be among the treasures threatened by change?

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