As a child, I loved going to brick and mortar bookstores. Trips to Borders and/or Barnes & Noble were special treats for me. I loved to browse through the huge shelves of books, having no idea what any of them held, but knowing I had all the time in the world to find out. You could always grab a strange-looking book off the rack, plunk yourself down in a comfy chair, and see what it was all about.
But today, things have changed.
It’s depressing to watch the self-destruction of the physical book-selling marketplace. When Borders closed, I didn’t want to believe it was happening. There went the relaxing place I had patronized for so many hours. And it wasn’t the loss of a venue to buy books from that was the problem. It was the loss of a store to truly BROWSE, in a way that one can’t online. There is no electronic equivalent to browsing through dust-jackets on a shelf completely full of graphic novels, wondering what you should pick up next. The same goes for Amazon preview pages — they’re nice, but not the same.
As such, I was thrilled when a Book World moved into the former Waldenbooks location in the Hickory Point Mall. Decatur had been without a dedicated commercial bookstore for over a year, and I’m sorry, that sucks for a city of this size. Used bookstores and the tiny selections at Walmart or Target do not cut it, unless you’re looking for a copy of “50 Shades of Grey,” which people apparently still are, for some reason. I knew from the get-go that Book World would never come close to matching the selection of the former Waldenbooks (and it hasn’t), but I figured something is better than nothing.
Fast forward to this past weekend, when I stopped at Book World while shopping at the mall. Something immediately struck me as different — the single table and set of chairs that had been set up for reading (already completely inadequate) was gone. When I asked where they had disappeared to, the exasperated clerk told me that it was now Book World’s corporate policy to get rid of all tables and chairs, to stop people from reading. Cited reason: “Because it takes the employees too long to put back the books left there.”
Let’s review — this now makes Book World the only commercial bookstore I’ve ever heard of where patrons are encouraged NOT TO READ. It’s also a place where corporate policy places more importance on a few minutes of end-of-day cleanup than, you know … customer service. Those priorities might not be weighted quite right.
When the store opened back in November, I did a short interview with the manager, Lori Williams. She said then that Book World would stand out from its competitors in a few ways, none of them involving seating.
“We have a larger children’s section, and I think people will notice that first,” she said then. “It’s a very well-constructed section for children of all ages.”
It’s too bad that the kids shopping in that children’s section don’t have a place to sit down and read in the store, don’t you think? There aren’t even short chairs and tables to match little kids’ proportions — tables that adults wouldn’t use anyway. Apparently, corporate was really fed up with the free ride that the kids had been receiving as they leafed through the picture books, free of charge.
The thing that really blew my mind upon consideration, though, was the fact that with this move, Book World is abandoning pretty much the only feature they could tout as having over an online retailer like Amazon. How often do you see that done, in the world of business? “Well, our competitor is beating us in every way, but we can still thankfully say we offer one experience that they can’t match. What’s that? GET RID of that experience? Brilliant! Done!”
It all seems so pointless. And these are just complaints coming from an average, able-bodied reader. Imagine the criticism that will be leveled at store workers by people who are physically disabled and looking for a place to ease the pain of a bad knee or back. Imagine the first wounded veteran, for God’s sake. Is that kind of media attention really worthwhile to the store in some kind of misguided effort to combat freeloaders and keep the shelves neat? I don’t see how it can be.
Regardless, I doubt I’ll be back in Book World unless its corporate policy changes to include basic customer courtesy again. Now, if only the next option wasn’t driving to Champaign or Bloomington to find a Barnes & Noble with a chair, I’d be getting somewhere.