I wasn’t living in New York when big-box bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders came to town and pretty much crushed smaller
neighborhood shops (as fictionalized on Nora Ephron’s Rom-Com You
Got Mail starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks), so I couldn’t witness the impact
that had on the city. However, I do remember coming to New York as a tourist in
the winter of 1999 with my then-girlfriend and going completely nuts over
bargain books priced at as little as $ 4.00 (living in Brazil then, books were quite
an expensive commodity).
Ever since I relocated here in the fall of 2000, I have
enjoyed spending time in those stores, either attending readings my some of my
favorite authors, browsing or just enjoying a cup of coffee in the company of
good books. Many of my favorite stores
are gone now – and now with the news of permanent loss of Borders (which is
down to two stores in New York City), I feel almost like an orphan. Their Penn
Station store is one of my favorite hangouts, where I often wait for my wife
whenever we have early evening plans in Manhattan – and where most of my cookbook
collection comes from – and plenty of my other books as well.
Though the current state of the economy is to blame, the
growth of digital gadgets like the Kindle and the iPad also has a lot to do
with it – like what has happened to CDs, the convenience of having thousands of
pages stored in a compact, easy-to-read tablet sure beats lugging heavy books
wherever you go. Someone I know from my
writing circle recently told me that while she still reads conventional books,
she finds it great to be able to have many books available anywhere at the
touch of a button.
I don’t personally own a Kindle (or any other of its
competitors) or a tablet. Call me old-fashioned, but I still enjoy flipping
through paper pages while on the subway or the Staten Island Ferry. And no one is going to mug me for well-worn
copy of a Hemingway or Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel or a new bestseller in
hardcover. Sure, someday I will have to succumb to the world of digital books
in the same manner that today I make use of Mp3s on a daily basis.
The other day I went over to Lincoln Center for a concert
and was shocked to see the Barnes & Noble store on W 66th street
all boarded up and being converted into a Century 21 clothing store. Apparently
that had taken place quite a while earlier, but since I hardly ever venture to
that area, I was caught completely unaware. Now Borders will be gone as well –
and that is a sad thing to witness.