Another One Bites the Dust
Recently I learned the sad news that my favorite book store in Manhattan, Coliseum Books, is going under. They're going to try to last through the holidays, but they're not sure if they'll be able to. The store, which died before, in its original incarnation on 57th street and Broadway, seemed to be successfully revived (God, will this metaphor ever end?) at its second locale on 42nd street across from the north end Bryant Park. For four years I worked on the south end of the park and would often walk through the park on my lunch break to browse through the store.
I'm going to miss Coliseum. The staff is knowledgeable about books of all types and their selection has both breadth and depth. Hopefully, it will have another incarnation, somehow, somewhere. For Coliseum's goodbye in its own words, go to the store's Web site.
But, I don't want this post to be purely an ode. While I am sad that Coliseum is going away, it brings up a larger question-- do independent bookstores serve any purpose? If you believe Slate, the answer is no. Joyce Carol Oates, according to a recent article (I can't recall the publication), loves to browse in the mega book chains.
I, however, would argue that these independent stores are worth preserving. First of all, for the benefit of the customers, each industry needs small book stores to keep them honest. If stores like Coliseum didn't stock obscure titles, the Barnes and Nobles of the world would have no compelling interest to do so and we would lose out. While used and obscure titles are much more readily available via e-tail, there is a culture of literacy, of sheer of books that the Slate article dismisses. There is value to being in a store where the employees know books and love books. On a practical level, they can help you find the right title, even if you can't remember the title or the author. There is nothing more maddening than getting a blank stare from a clerk at Barnes and Noble when you try to describe the book you're looking for. But, on a more intangible level, this atmosphere has value, even if can't be precisely quantified. If atmosphere mean nothing, why would be people value a restaurant's ambience instead of just settling for spartan-looking joints with quality food?