Hello Dear Readers,
Today is a sad day for readers in my little city. Aqua Books, an innovative used book store, restaurant, and creative space for writers, just announced that it is closing its doors.
Aqua Books was a risky venture from the beginning--converting a huge old Chinese restaurant into a vibrant space for book lovers was no easy feat. I applaud its owners, Kelly and Candace Hughes, for locating their dream business in the city's downtown...a place that is usually deserted by 7 p.m. (unless the Fringe Festival is on), and where many people are still too afraid to park or walk down the street.
In spite of the risks, Aqua Books seemed to be thriving. There were tons of well-attended literary events each month, and whenever I dropped by--either to buy too many books, have lunch at Eat! Bistro, or see a show, the place was packed. Kelly even supported local artists by having writers and photographers in residence. It was a bustling, exciting place to be...so what happened?
Sadly, Kelly blames Aqua's downfall on a decreasing number of readers. The following quote is from the goodbye email he sent to his customers last night:
"The real problem with bookselling is something I have alluded to in the last couple of months. It's a cultural shift away from reading. Smart phones, Facebook, and The Internet are all part of what has replaced reading time. I won't beat it to death, but it's an irreversible change in people's habits. You may still read and love books as much as you always have, but you are now in the minority. Book sales here have dropped 30% in the last year. (That's why McNally seems like it's all saltshakers and aprons these days.) "
Obviously, if this is true, it's very sad news for writers, and for people who know the value of losing themselves in a book. I can't imagine life without books, and even though e-books are more environmentally friendly, I'm still addicted to the printed page. I love used book stores. They're like treasure hunting: you always come away with something fantastic and unexpected. Plus, used books have history. I've bought books with personal inscriptions, and found photographs, letters, and postcards tucked inside others. Together, they tell the story of other people who have loved that particular book, and perhaps had their lives shaped or changed by it in some way.
I'm also an Amazon customer. I'm not going to lie about that. Sometimes I like to spend hours hunting through a charming bookstore, and other times I'm in a hurry and just want everything delivered to my door, shiny-new, with free shipping. My boss once tried to buy a book at McNally, another local bookstore, only to be told that they didn't have it in stock and would have to order it from Amazon for him. (With a mark-up included, I'm sure.) With service like that, it's no wonder that Amazon is smoking the competition.
But I do think places like Aqua Books are important, and I'm always very sad to see one of them go. I hope I don't live long enough to see a world without bookstores.
What do you think, Dear Readers? Why are bookstores having such a hard time? Do you find yourself reading less? If so, why?