Santa Cruz, California is a laid-back, university town on the coast, 75 miles south of San Francisco. However, it is forced to wake up when Silicon Valley tourists invade it all summer long and on weekends throughout the year.
In March 2011, the city's Yacht Harbor was set upon and heavily damaged by the powerful remnants of an unexpected and unwelcomed tsunami that arrived from Japan.
At times, the temporary incursion of unwanted human beings as well as uncontrollable natural forces must be reluctantly accepted in liberal, semi-close-knit Santa Cruz.
Big box stores are another story, especially when they deliberately infringe upon the sacred and nearby territory of long-term local merchants, who are then forced to rethink and possibly close their family businesses.
After the October 1989 earthquake destroyed many of downtown's Pacific Avenue retail buildings, volunteers helped merchants move into temporary tents in time for the Christmas selling season. This included moving thousands of books from the rubble that once was Bookshop Santa Cruz.
Bookshop faced two more calamitous, yet unnatural, acts designed to finally destroy one of the two largest independent bookstores in the county. Crown Books and then Borders opened within a few blocks of Bookshop's front door. Neither invader was able to put Bookshop out of business, yet the not so loyal, recently arrived dot-com citizens and the wayward and fickle upper-class university students, were more attuned to in-store looking and online buying.
Bookshop is still on Pacific Avenue, and gets its share of tourists looking to say that they bought "it" in Santa Cruz. They also have a hometown citizen base that remembers what it was like to support local businesses, including independent bookstores.
On the fringe of Santa Cruz city proper, lays Capitola, where another independent bookstore is fighting to survive. The Capitola Book Café gets no deliberate tourist traffic, as it nestles in a strip shopping center between a super market and a movie theatre, not far from Tony and Alba's Pizza.
This semi-anonymous setting belies the fact that for years the Book Café has been a haven for touring authors and their loyal, buying followers. During its 32 years, it has hosted spirited talks by an eclectic group including Jonathan Franzen, Salman Rushdie, Amy Goodman, David Sedaris and Paul Krassner. On Thursday, June 21, bookshelves will be rolled aside and the Book Cafe will be packed once again, this time to hear Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Both she and her book were featured in this week's Time magazine.
The most awaited presentations will all take place the following night June 22, when seventeen local authors will be speaking, but not all at the same time. They will be trying to fulfill the Book Café's campaign slogan to "Survive and Thrive." There will also be a champagne reception, flamenco music, food and prizes.
Like many independent bookstores across the country, the Book Café is suffering financially and there's a dire need for them to stay in business -- and not only for their own sake. People still crave a comfortable place to sit and listen to a bevy of authors throughout the year, and a place where the sales people are truly book people out to help their neighbors. Many still long for and want to preserve the I-can-still-hold-you-in-my-hands book and do so in the warmth of a store, where there's a chance to take a break from their hectic daily life.
More than likely, the behemoth Amazon cares less about the survival of the independents. Its founder Jeff Bezos is probably quite proud of his nearly $50 billion in sales last year, and the fact that he helped to close Borders, weakened Barnes & Noble, and now has close to 65,000 non-union employees.
The Capitola Book Café, with its 25 employees, is seeking the help of its neighbors and authors who are still looking for an intimate place to speak to and confide with their readers. If the Book Cafe can't make it, then we the people will have lost a valuable connection to a much more revered past, and that connection may be severed forever.
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