Squeezed Out.

Not to belabor the point to you fine, principled people. We all know it’s important to shop locally, to support the little guy. Regardless of the fact that big box stores have everything you need – and they have it cheap and easy; taking into consideration that online purchasing from Amazon, et al., is amazingly fast, convenient, and delightful. We desire Zappos because they offer free shipping and one-day service on any kind of shoe you can put on a foot. We traipse through the isles at Bloodbath & Beyond because of those nifty, never-expire 20%-off coupons they keep sending us in the post. I do it, we do it, and we get lots of stuff that we need and enjoy, regardless of our understanding that it can spell death for the independent business owner. This is nothing new, and you already know it. You already live it, because you’re from San Francisco, or you voted for Obama, or you’ve just been released from prison and are starting a new life of utter awareness and altruism.

I am one of those shady characters who spends much of his money in the small stores, and I also take advantage of the big ones. There is no magic expenditure percentage that will ensure that online services continue to make our lives more convenient while keeping the smaller, local places afloat during difficult economic times. But as time rolls on and the nature of business changes…as things become more digital, easier to produce, able to be beamed directly into our skulls instead of read and intellectually absorbed like we’ve been doing for generations and eras, we’re bound to lose the staples of our communities to the staples of convenience and cost-effectiveness. In fact, we’re bound to lose our communities, but that is another topic to consider at another time.

Stacey’s Bookstore is closing after 85 years of business in San Francisco. No surprise, really, as we’re seeing bookstores wink out faster than lighters at the Shoreline just before the end of Coldplay’s “The Scientist”. Like Cody’s before them, like Black Oak on Irving…like Afterwords, Odyssey, and Mandrake in San Rafael – three of which were on the same street my own small business is also on, we’re losing one of our area’s greatest commodities. Like Kepler’s…almost…and perhaps again. Aden on California. The list continues.

Not preaching, promise. We all do it. We have to live the way we live until we realize that we need to change for whatever reason. No judgment nor contempt here. And it’s not really Amazon’s fault, nor Target, nor Walmart. It’s the manufacturers who make the product, who sell to these companies in bulk for massive discounts, who in turn can sell them cheaper than the small stores can purchase them for. Yes, it’s you, you fascist bastards Hasbro. You slimy pieces of shit. Your product stinks as much as you do, and you’re winning this battle, this battle of wills. You’re manipulating the expectations of the mass market to believe that they deserve things for free, for cheap, for easy. That they can get whatever they want when they want it with no consequence. And they’re wrong, but you’re telling them they’re right.

In my own small business, we usually have delightful customers. If some quibble over prices, my rule is to tell them to get it cheaper elsewhere. But I always explain the state of the industry. The fact that manufacturers offer the mass market exclusive items, that they deep discount to move things fast. I tell them these manufacturers restrict small stores on what they can sell and even offer us different catalogs based on our yearly expenditure with them. Usually they want no part of that kind of system. But the other day, I overheard a customer on his cell phone – in my store, with a game in his hand – say that he was going to go home, look up the game on Amazon and see if he could get it cheaper before shopping at the store he was already in, with product in hand. That pissed me off. And I only kept from “calmly explaining” to him why that utterly sucked because he was on the phone, and I didn’t want to interrupt.

The game, by the way, is the exact same price on Amazon.

No guilt-mongering here; not focused too much on loyalty with these words. Just thinking about choices and how to make them. Putting money where my mouth is? Not always. Just wanting to be a good man and to see other good businesses and good people flourish because of their hard work and excellent service. And sad, oh, so sad about Stacey’s. They’re there until March, if you fancy seeing one of San Francisco’s best bookstores…before it’s gone.

16 Responses to “Squeezed Out.”

  1. scothen_krau Says:
    January 7th, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    I frequent Stacy's on a weekly basis, and not just because it is located roughly 15 stories beneath my feet at work. It's one of the few bookstores that can't stump on a regular basis – regardless of what strikes my fancy on any particular day, I'm 95% likely to find exactly what I need there. Being so close, it's also allowed me to personally pester my favorite authors.
    I'm pretty damn upset about the closing, and I keep hoping that, somehow, a surge in patronage will allow them to survive. I know that I'm going tomorrow, and plan to spend quite a bit of holiday cash. If anyone has a chance, please do the same.

  2. kid_lit_fan Says:
    January 7th, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    Dang, I loved Stacey's, and they got a good percentage of my bookstore business when I worked in the City.

  3. scotis_man Says:
    January 7th, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    Some of my greatest childhood memories are of wandering through local bookstores. Each one was different and catered to different customers. The true delight was in finding those few stores that catered to my tastes. I am the guy who would rather go out of my way and pay more for my coffee at a "local" coffee shop than go to the 2 Starbucks and 1 Peets that I pass on my way. I am too far away to go to Stacy's, but I am saddened by the news.

  4. anonymouseth Says:
    January 8th, 2009 at 2:41 am

    while i agree with most of your sentiments, i can't help but play devils's advocate .. but you know that 🙂
    "Just wanting to be a good man and to see other good businesses and good people flourish because of their hard work and excellent service."
    well, thankfully those good people at amazon etc are currently enjoying their flourish.
    "You already live it, because you're from San Francisco, or you voted for Obama,"
    but .. obama wants change.
    "In fact, we're bound to lose our communities"
    …or just divorce them from geography. the net is always carping on about creating community these days. in fact, i'm in one right now, ill advisedly railing at a friend.
    generally though, yes – we're fucked, in lots of small ways. the business model is terrible, morally, but it works financially. i'm sure that at some point, once all of the traditional bookstores have gone and people realise that there was value in physically browsing, amazongooglewikicorp will open some amazing, never-before-seen, ohmygodhowcool physical amazoutlets ™ bringing a new tactile dimension to your book buying pleasure.
    ultimately, though – it's all just stuff…

  5. FunkyPlaid Says:
    January 8th, 2009 at 10:45 am

    Was counting on some sharp observations from you, my man.
    Re: hard work and flourishing
    That's precisely why I still buy from both models; I understand that it's not like Amazon is being run by Cylons…
    Re: Obama and change
    You know that I was evoking the Big O in a parodical sense as a champion of the Mighty Left, which he isn't.
    Re: communities
    Great point that we're opening new online communities all the time. And we've had this conversation before, that some feel that the E-world can seem unhealthy or counteractive to constructive discourse because of its anonymity, or that the encroaching anti-intellectualism or anti-Humanism of the Net is supplanting genuine community in a derogatory way. Obviously this is a much bigger subject, and of course there are solid arguments both ways. But yes, I was talking about physical communities, ones that my own business model are based on. I'm talking about things to do on a Saturday night that don't involve my blessed monitor, which I actually have trouble separating myself from these days.
    Re: amazongooglewikicorp's amazoutlets
    I love how you make me snort my tea.
    Re: It's all just stuff…
    Right said. And while that statement has existentially sanitized the meat of this post, and while I agree with it, San Fran is still out a magnificent bookstore.
    Good to virtually talk with you, Seth; it's something that H and I regularly find absent from our lives.

  6. skullculture Says:
    January 8th, 2009 at 4:10 am

    I try to walk the line.
    On something of a tangent, WOTLK: have you done enough questing to see the Dragonblight cinematic yet?

  7. FunkyPlaid Says:
    January 8th, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Yes, and it's magnificent, isn't it? Sometimes when I'm afk flying through the area and the screams start going off, I run into the office to see what the hell has gone wrong. 🙂

  8. skullculture Says:
    January 8th, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Yeah, it really creeped me out the first time I heard em. The Forsaken guy's dialogue is pretty special.

  9. astorax Says:
    January 8th, 2009 at 11:44 am

    The storytelling in WotLK is better by leaps and bounds in their quest chains. If you haven't yet, Storm Peaks has some really kickass quest chains that are just awesome.

  10. podle Says:
    January 8th, 2009 at 9:18 am

    How wonderful to get to read one of your posts and how sad to hear about Stacey's. When I was thirteen or so my father let me loose in that store with a 20 dollar bill to buy whatever I wanted. I was in hog heaven. At the time that meant five or six books for ME of my own choosing. Its a memory I treasure and that surfaces every time I find myself happily puttering around Green Apple, Other Change of Hobbit, Black Oak or Dark Carnival. For me there is no replacement for an hour or so spent carefully considering my purchases, talking to shop owners and, lets face it – fondling books. I admit it, I'm a book fondler.
    Am I living in the past? Am I living a privileged existence (in that I can afford the time and money to make the choice to go to these stores)? Yes, both are true, I think – still, I prefer it. I prefer random encounters and speaking to real live people in real time.

  11. FunkyPlaid Says:
    January 9th, 2009 at 1:00 am

    I suspect if fingerprints were dusted for in the Bay Area's most beloved bookstores, you might be taken in for less-than-savory conduct in many sections of many locales.
    And you know I'd be in the cell with you. Once a fondler…

  12. astorax Says:
    January 8th, 2009 at 11:52 am

    I don't have anything to add re local shop vs. the big brother (so to speak). I agree that a balance can and should be found between the two, but as folks get lazier and lazier about wanting to go out into the world to find the good stuff when hey can sit on their iPhone and order it, or go to their computer and order it, that becomes more difficult. I don't know what the solution is, but I can see a problem coming from it.
    As far as the online community phenominon…a lot of people, particularly in older generations, decry online communication as being impersonal, anonymous and not as fulfilling as person-to-person contact. While I see their point, I'm in touch with (and I do not use the word in exaggeration) hundreds of people that I likely would not be in touch with if it weren't for online communities.
    You and I are a good example of that. As much fun as I have when I get the odd chance to run by the store in Marin to sit and chat and catch up with you, we don't get the opporunity to hang out very often (mea culpa for not making more of an effort, but damnit, Marin is so far away!!). But being part of LJ's community means having some contact that otherwise wouldn't be there.
    This type of community online is not anonymous (although in some cases remembering who is attached to what username can be troublesome) and can get VERY personal depending on what ends up getting shared. It's often simply the fastest way to shout out news to a large group of people we know.
    Anyway, I'm puttin away the soapbox.

  13. velvetdahlia Says:
    January 9th, 2009 at 5:31 am

    Cody's is gone? That totally sucks, especially because these big businesses can't fill the shoes of the smaller, local shops. It's a totally different service, as your lame Amazon-price-comparing customer obviously doesn't get.

  14. robby_rejected Says:
    January 9th, 2009 at 8:24 am

    You know, it's wonderful to see someone approach this topic seriously and in a passionate yet sensible way. I do agree that these large box stores are rapidly singing a death knell for the small personally owned and managed stores in a majority of the communities in this country. Unfortunately I find it hard to live by shopping at the small businesses. I don't have the luxury of going elsewhere when I can really save money by going to Wal-Mart or buying from Amazon.
    That said, it is tragic that we're losing so many of our really awesome stores. When I worked in the local pagan/hippie/head shop I continually had people complain about things like the price of incense or our handmade silver jewelry and try to tell me how much incense cost at Wal-mart or how they could find "nicer jewelry online for less money". It IS incredibly frustrating when people can't see the error in that way of thinking. Unfortunately for our shop it closed a while back and has no real hope of reopening.
    You know, as far as our communities go I'm forced to agree with you. These "easy shop, easy go" places are isolating the individual from his/her community. Rather than go out and shop in local stores with real people and real service they'll go to the completely impersonal chain store and ask their questions of people with no desire to help them. And the efficacy of online ordering really kind of disturbs me. We do it but it makes me wonder how cut off it's allowing us to be from the world around us.
    Well, I've written you a novel. Sorry. Enjoyed the post though.

  15. inbody Says:
    January 14th, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    Great Post
    Great post. As bookstores are concerned, though, I recently read, and agreed with, an article that pointed out how the big boxes like Borders are really more of a blessing than a burden as their relative ubiquity puts a wide selection of literature and other books at the fingertips of those who might not otherwise have access. Speaking as a formal rural-dweller, that seems like a net-positive effect.
    On the other hand, my family business – a record store – was forced to close in the mid 90's as the very same big boxes encroached. We didn't even make it into competition with Amazon. Capitalism can be tough. As we all know, though, dollars are spent democratically and if people want to buy it $1 cheaper from the man, they're gonna do it. Maybe if you start selling slurpees and cheap men's underwear, I won't buy my games at Target.
    😉

  16. Anonymous Says:
    January 19th, 2009 at 12:12 am

    Hello…I've never been to Stacey's but I miss Cody's a lot, and you have my sympathy. My new bookstore life has revolved around Narnes & Boble because it has good handicapped parking, but it always feels so antiseptic and generic, I don't consider it a specially pleasant experience. Usually I just get whatever magazine I came for and leave. (And the idea of actually selling drinks in proximity to new books is just bizarre! Did somebody think it was called Starbooks??)
    When I want a "real" bookstore crawl, and can find parking close enough, I go to Moe's or Shakespeare's or Pegasus. Not only do I feel more normal in a store that sells used books as well as new ones, but they have a greater variety and don't seem as if they're catering to some imaginary square root of the population. That's the problem I have with chain stores — I often can't find what I want, only what X million other Americans want or what some manufacturers in China *think* they should want.
    (But that's part of a much larger problem, the gradual loss of the idea that buying is customer-driven, not store-driven, and that individuality is acceptable. It's increasingly hard to find clerks who understand that the purchase is supposed to originate in a need or wish or circumstance of the customer, not in a desire sparked by advertising on the part of the store, and that therefore the customer is not unreasonable to disagree with the clerk's efforts to supply a substitute purchase.)
    Clearly, it is time for you and the lady to come to a tea-and-booksearch expedition to the East Bay, yes?? [madly shoves belongings off sofa and searches for gluten-free recipes]
    Hugs for a fellow bibliophile,
    Kirsty

Leave a Reply