Friday, September 9, 2016

WE ALL LOSE WHEN A BOOKSTORE CLOSES


Hastings Books & Music, a regional retail chain headquartered in Amarillo, Texas, is bankrupt and shutting down. Unlike the dissolution of Borders, a national bookstore chain, the news of the demise of Hastings has caused hardly a ripple of broadcast or print media attention, except in those small markets where it was the only bookstore in town.

Over twenty years ago, in April, 1996, when my publisher at the time, W.W. Norton, sent me on a book tour for my debut novel, Tularosa, one of my first signings was at the old Hastings store in a strip mall on 10th Street in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Because my novel was set mostly on the nearby White Sands Missile Range, my editor at the time, Hilary Hinzmann, figured it would be a sure-fire hit in that small city. Indeed he was right, and I've been back to Alamogordo to sign every one of my books since. 

The citizens of Alamogordo have embraced me over the years, turning out in droves for each new novel, to the point that I like to brag that I'm the best-selling writer in that city of some 30,000. The folks I personally know down there don't disagree, especially after the publication of my American West historical trilogy, set squarely on their turf, which had them singing my praises.

Several years ago, the company moved to a brand new store on the main drag through town, White Sands Boulevard, and it was by far one of the nicest, neatest, best organized Hastings Store I'd ever been in, unlike the dingy, messy Santa Fe store that I always left feeling an urgent need to wash my hands. (My guess is the Alamogordo store stood out because a number of the employees were military dependents from nearby Holloman Air Force Base, and nobody does "neat and tidy" better than the armed services.)

I was there this last May, for the release of the final book in my trilogy, The Last Ranch, and the line stretched almost out the door with over a hundred smiling, eager people wanting to say hello and have me sign their books. It's the kind of event every writer dreams about. 

Now, their only bookstore is about to close. So what's the big deal, you may ask. There's always the Internet. Or if they really need to go to an actual bookstore, they can travel up to Becky Ewings' Books Etcetera in Ruidoso, or Mike Beckett's COAS Bookstore in Las Cruces, or Ed Woten's Imaginary Books in Cloudcroft, all no more than an hour drive away.

Well, the big deal is that when a town loses its only bookstore, it also forfeits a significant amount of cultural enrichment. No longer will parents be able to take their young children to find the perfect, new bedtime story. No longer will students be able to browse for that special book they need to finish a term paper or school report. No longer will readers be able to dive into the mystery, romance, or science fiction section looking to discover a new author or to grab the latest release of a favorite writer.

Some modern classics that are unavailable at the public library won't be stacked on those empty shelves. The enjoyable pastime of randomly looking for an interesting title will have ended. That wonderful dialogue between book lovers and book sellers who love books, will have fallen silent. Finally, all the writers who appeared at the store to talk about and sign their latest book, will be there no more. The excitement in the community about books and reading, literacy and learning -- perceived or not --will have waned.

That is how we all lose. Every town that sees their last bookstore close, ripples like a wave that diminishes us all. For one, I am personally sad for Alamogordo, New Mexico.   


   

11 comments:

  1. Well said. COAS is a fantastic store, but Hastings was local. I have several autographed Kearney novels from tour visits to Alamogordo.

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    1. Beat the drum for someone to open an independent book store in Alamo!

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  2. Hastings was a weekly stop for our family, books, magazines, just browse, it was a decent place to just be.

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    1. Exactly, and it will be missed by many in Alamo.

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  3. I love bookstores. Old, new, chain, one-of-a-kind. Antique, current... I have found some of my best reads at out of the way places. And some very unique books as well, such as the illustrated works of Georgia O'Keefe I found at a used bookstore in Springerville for $10. Or a first edition Tony Hillerman at a used bookstore where you trade 5 and get one free. I buy so many at Barnes and Noble I should own a lot of the stock. When my kids were in school at NMMI, I would shop at the Hastings every time I went to visit them... I will miss that chain, just as I miss many others. There is nothing like the feel of a book in your hand. Beats out the "audio books" and Nookbooks every time.

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    1. Aren't bookstores wonderful places filled with treasures?

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  4. Bookstores are a destination for my wife and me when we travel, as well as when we stay home. It is sad when a good store closes. Here in Denver, there are many used book stores which help, but often do make you want to wash your hands afterward. I still love them. I hope Hastings will find a way to "Be calm and carry on".

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  5. Bookstores are a destination for my wife and me when we travel, as well as when we stay home. It is sad when a good store closes. Here in Denver, there are many used book stores which help, but often do make you want to wash your hands afterward. I still love them. I hope Hastings will find a way to "Be calm and carry on".

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  6. Thankfully, millions of us are bookstore addicts. Let's hope there's never a cure.

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  7. Lynette from Tularosa, NM. Thanks for drafting the words I have been wanting to say.

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  8. You're welcome and thanks for writing.

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