Am I crazy to think at this stage in my life that I can open and maintain a bookstore to success? It was 20 years ago when I started working for Borders Books & Music. I came on board to help open the Westbury, Long Island, location and was thrilled to be a part of such energy, not to mention being surrounded by so many books. By then, there were already quite a number of Borders Books across the country and they were on a roll to open many more. It felt hopeful to be a part of something that provided culture and edification specifically for each local community, which is something Borders encouraged early on in the game before they became more corporate minded.
Yes, I read about how the smaller, independent bookstores couldn't stay afloat against the behemoth big-box bookstores, and felt a tiny bit of guilt while reading how one store and then another was forced to close up shop. Seemingly, people were no longer interested in the inviting, unique experience that many of those bookstores offered. Or so we thought.
But then something happened; the missteps bringing trouble to Borders. Rumors started floating around how this store or that store would be downsized or closing, positions eliminated. Before long the buzz became fact and in 2005 my position, along with others in my department, was cut. Granted, I certainly hadn't gotten rich working for this corporation, but it was about more than just the money. (God, it had to be about more than just the money with how little I was making.) Then, only a few years later, the last of the Borders stores closed, and so many booksellers felt shell shocked, even though they saw the writing on the wall. How could this have happened? Was reading becoming passé?
Oh, but how I missed being around all those books, seeing what new titles were going on the shelves. I missed hosting all those author and music events. I missed talking shop with publishers and introducing customers to the works of mid-list authors. I did manage to stay on the periphery, though, by being a publishing consultant and writing my own books, but still felt something was amiss. My friend, Peggy, who was a general manager for one of the Long Island Borders stores, felt the same way. She'd gone on to manage other retail outlets while the two of us often reminisced about what it was like working in a bookstore. Often, we would say, "Let's just open our own." It seemed like nothing more than a foolish suggestion for the longest time; after all, if Borders couldn't survive, what makes us think we could?
Well, call it a bucket list, romantic notion, or plumb crazy idea, but Peggy and I are in the early (very early) stages of seeing if we can bring an independent bookstore to the South Shore of Long Island, one that will have a dedicated event space offering a gathering place for the community -- not to mention wine and beer. What gives me hope are the recent articles I've been reading about how independent bookstores are doing quite well, many of them having ridden through the big-box-bookstore tide and staying afloat. We're not naïve; we know about all those digital devices that can download a book without anyone having to leave the comfort of their home. Yet, we're hoping we can offer that reason for wanting to leave the comfort of one's home, and are crazy enough to see how far we can go to make this dream happen. We may hit a roadblock too big to get around, but for now, we'll enjoy the ride.