Jerry Seinfeld once said that a “bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence that people are still thinking”. If that is true, and I rather incline to the view that it is, then ignorance has claimed another modern victim. I learnt this morning by e mail that the giant Border’s bookstore in Union Square, San Francisco is about to close. I’m not sure what date it will finally shut its doors, but I do hope the sale that began yesterday will still be in full swing when I visit towards the end of next month.
An oasis of culture in my least favourite part of the city, I have always looked forward to spending an hour, and a few dollars, there when on vacation. It was one of the first bookstores in my experience that appeared to actively encourage customers to stay awhile and browse through the books and magazines before purchase. Equally, it possessed a (Seattle’s Best) cafe that was always packed, even in the minutes leading up to its midnight closure. Thankfully, that has become a model for the diminishing number of bookstores in the UK in recent years.
In one sense I am hardly surprised – the Border’s bookstore in Oxford Street in London closed a couple of years ago, replaced by yet another tacky youth “fashion” emporium. And another San Francisco branch – in South Beach – went out of business in October. Both were victims of the economic downturn in general and the rise of internet based competition.
Now, I can’t abdicate responsibility for my own part in the demise of the bookstore. I can never pass one without going in – after all they are increasingly rare sights -but it is as often these days to check the price of books I want before rushing home, going online and buying them at massively discounted cost at Amazon. I have resisted the allure of a Kindle or similar e-reader up till now, although the convenience might prove too much of a temptation before long. What I will never lose the love for, however, is the feel and look of books and the generally civilised atmosphere of bookstores.
At least I can still comfort myself with visits to the City Lights Bookstore in North Beach, Barnes and Noble in Fisherman’s Wharf and the Booksmith in Haight-Ashbury on my forthcoming trip. I just hope I’m not lamenting their demise too before the next time I take that eleven hour flight west.