It was with much dismay last week when I tuned into CBC and listened to the account of the demise of yet another small independent bookstore, this time in Huntsville, Ontario, our own backyard. While some may simply dismiss this as a “sign of the times,” I suggest it belies a much more serious problem, which is the erosion of our freedom of literary choice and on a grander scale the basic fundamental ability to choose.
I understand the better prices at the big-box stores, the convenience of ordering online, etc. — but all these arguments fall shy of the more important issues. A large box store can buy in bulk, which they then turn around and sell off the “bestsellers” as a lost leader, at a price that undercuts the small independent stores. There is nothing new about this concept; the large grocery chains have been doing it to mom-and-pop operations for time eternity. Some call it capitalism; I call it plain insatiable greed of the large corporations.
As far as bookstores go, the colossal difference is the big-box store will not go out of their way to search out and find a classic book or novel for a number of reasons. One of which is the amount of time searching publishers to find the lost Kerouac or Ginsberg or Huxley novel cannot be recouped at their check-out counter. Another more mundane reason is the employees of these stores are by and large just a number and could care less about customer service, or the effort and time it would take to search for a long-lost missing piece of literature.
Even though I am concentrating on the erosion of choice concerning simply buying literature, the argument can also be made for the big-box stores in general. I see so many so-called “proud” Canadians shopping at Walmart (the store that cannot be named) because of the crazy low prices.
Call me paranoid at this point or save this editorial rant and re-read it in about 50 years when we are pared down to having only one choice for any kind of shopping — the giant corporations of commerce. Of course, at this point they would have the power to price gouge, not provide certain products, service would go out the window and product quality would suffer as well.
In closing I cannot stress this point enough: we should not let money dictate everything. We cherish the ability to choose and be individual; this costs something — letting the big-box stores take over all aspects of our lives including bookstores is the beginning of a serious problem.
I implore anyone reading this to consider their purchasing be done at the local stores that employ local people. Initially we may pay a little more, but in time this will nurture the environment required to sustain the proper supply and demand protocol that we are precariously close to losing completely.
Please stand up for your right to choose, don’t let your ability to be individual be eroded, and most importantly support your local bookstore and it will in turn foster the free-thinking minds we require to journey into the future and beyond.
C. Michael Mortimer