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The Joy of a Real Bookstore

Published in ChicagoNow, July 25, 2016

Recently, we took our grandkids to an actual, brick and mortar Barnes and Noble in a suburb of Indianapolis. It wasn’t easy or convenient. The one in their town had closed, so we drove some distance to reach the bookstore. But it was worth it. They had a blast. You would think we had taken then to a water park.

Sadly, the closest thing they have in their town to a real live bookstore is the children’s book section at Target – two aisles of books, mostly related to Disney movies and commercial characters. And their town library is small, with a limited selection of chapter books for the nine-year-old. Not too many people use it and its financial resources are limited.

There are many places in our country where children live in what we call food deserts, lacking access to stores that sell fresh, healthy foods to nourish their growing bodies. I guess you could say that my grandkids live in a book desert, having limited access to books to nourish their developing minds.

Of course, my grandchildren are blessed to be able to obtain books online. And it’s not that they lack books in their home. I always bring them new ones when I visit, and they order the ones they know they want (like the new Land of Stories) on Amazon. But actually seeing so many choices was a big deal. And taking the time to explore, touch, sample, and select was really fun and enlightening for all of us.

Here’s what we learned on our trip to an actual bookstore: It’s OK to skip the toys near the front of the store. The children’s book section at the back is way more fun. And you can’t judge a book by its cover, which is a downfall of buying online. When they had the time to look inside (not virtually) and handle the books, they discovered that a silver, glittery cover could be hiding a boring book. Plus, the seven-year-old admitted that his little brother’s picture books were pretty cool because the beautiful illustrations were “kind of like art.”

The bookstore adventure made me wax nostalgic about their mother’s childhood when there were many bookstores, even ones devoted solely to children’s books. In fact, a friend and I dreamed of starting a children’s bookstore in our neighborhood. But that was also the era of large chain stores like Borders Books and Barnes and Noble opening in every community, driving the unique and independent smaller stores out of business. How ironic that the Internet and e-books have killed Borders and seriously disabled the Barnes and Noble stores.

As we were leaving with our purchases, my granddaughter looked around and noticed we were the only customers. She wondered if this store would also close soon. “We need to tell more people to come to real bookstores,” she proclaimed. “I want to be able to come here again.”

So, my dear granddaughter, I am telling more people to come to the few brick and mortar bookstores that are left. Bring your children to experience wandering among shelves of actual books before it is too late. And don’t forget to visit and support your local library.


by Laurie Levy
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