The Value of a Small-Town Bookstore

For years, I kept my house in Deer Lodge, Montana, hoping to be able to move back some day.  Whenever the roads permitted, I spent time there, catching up with friends, fixing up the house, and seeing the changes that were taking place.

One of the best changes was the opening of a small, independent bookstore, Browsing Bison Books.  There are two owners; the one I’ve worked with is Cris.

When I told Cris that I was working on the George R. Stewart biography, she invited me to join the next meeting of the BBB Writers’ Group.  I agreed; and it was well worth the time.  In that small town in southwestern Montana, there was a vigorous small group of writers, some published, all interested in what other writers were doing.  I learned about their work, and experience writing.  One was a postman; others were students or local residents of various types.  They were interested in GRS,and his classic work Earth Abides  I was interested in what they were publishing.

BBB also has active book clubs, which gives local readers a place to meet and share their literary adventures with each other.

The juggernauts on the internet, like Amazon, seem to be destroying independent bookstores.  Yet, ironically, it is the ability of bookstores like BBB to sell through internet companies like ABE  that is helping keep them alive, even prospering.  As BBB tells readers on its Indie web page, they’ve sold books on six continents – something not possible before the internet gave the small bookstores that pathway to a global market.  It opens up a new world for independent bookstores, one were they can be intimate and neighborly parts of their communities, but also part of the larger community of readers on the Earth.

And it is through such sharing of literate knowledge across borders that enlightenments are born. It’s a practical, business-like version of the slogan “Think locally, act globally.”

George R. Stewart would be happy with this new model for selling books.  He’d also be pleased to learn that Browsing Bison Books, for a time at least, had new copies of Earth Abides for sale in the bookstore, in Deer Lodge, Montana.

Here’s a photo of the bookstore’s front window, from their facebook page.  (The building reflected in the window is the historic Deer Lodge post office, across Main Street.)

browsing bison books

You Want HOW Much For a Copy of Scott’s GRS Biography? A brief note.

The GRS biography is expensive.  The publisher, a small independent press of impeccable reputation, has an excellent marketing approach:  They sell to universities and libraries, with  “the trade” – that’s you and me – being a distant secondary market.  They don’t expect to sell many copies, and their books are of the highest quality, so the prices are high.  The book sells for $55.00, retail.  $55.00 is a lot for a paperback book, even if it is an authorized biography, and of high quality.

But it’s a bargain when you consider the price being asked for used copies. I did some checking recently, on Amazon:  $61.00, $101.00, and … Are you ready? $166.00 So when you buy your copy, and pay what seems a high price, remember – you aren’t paying $166.00 for it. On the other hand, the fact that a good seller considers it worth that much is a compliment to the book , and I wish them luck in the selling.

Bookstores — Still independent, still thriving

Bibliophiles — those who love books — are numerous.  You can always spot one — when you visit someone for the first time, look for their library; and then look to see what’s in it.  A friend, Diane Sternbach once suggested to me that a good motto for our time might be “by their books shall ye know them,” and I think she’s spot on. (Diane even asked Google to translate the phrase into Latin: “a libris eorum cognoscetis eos eor (know them from their books).” She comments,  “Doesn’t exactly fall trippingly from the tongue, does it?”)

Bibliophiles have even entered legend — Captain Kirk is a lover of books.

One of the great pleasures of being a bibliophile is the discovery of a new independent bookstore.  The folks that own them love books, too, and it shows in what they sell and how they sell.  It’s not just a job with them.  Like good librarians, they will often size up a patron and make suggestions which lead to the reader’s discovery of new authors and new books.   Over the years, I’ve had some very happy times wandering through independent bookstores, talking about books with staff folks, and following their suggestions about things to read.

Amazon and the Big Box stores have killed a lot of small bookstores.  But independent bookstores are still with us.  They provide service not available at the big box stores or online — try calling Amazon with a simple book or author question.   The independents also offer books that the big places are not interested in carrying because they can’t sell enough copies.

Here are some favorites:  Shakespeare & Co., Green Apple Books in San Francisco, Bookstore WestPortal in San Francisco, Powell’s in Portland, Oregon, Moe’s in Berkeley, Books Inc (“the West’s oldest independent bookseller”) in Mountain View, California,  Kepler’s in Menlo Park, California, Book Boutique in Henderson, Nevada, Vroman’s in Pasadena, California  — I could list these all night.

There’s a new book out now, of essays about authors’ favorite bookstores.  The LA Times has an excerpt from one of the essays here

What about you?  Do you have a favorite bookstore, a place where you like to browse for a while, maybe have some coffee, and talk books with a passionate staff?  If so, put it in the comments section, please.

And the New Home for the Bob Lyon George R. Stewart Collection is…

Back of Beyond Books, in Moab, Utah. Here’s a link to this fine independent bookstore:

Owner Andy Nettel and his wife Marcee also have a rental house in Moab. To learn more about that or them, follow this link:

Andy Nettell had a career as a National Park Ranger in Canyonlands and Arches — a true follower of Ed Abbey. For a time, Andy even owned Abbey’s red Cadillac convertible: “>

There’s a double George R. Stewart connection here.   Stewart spent his boyhood in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where his grandfather helped found what is now Indiana University of Pennsylvania.  Ed Abbey was born in Indiana, and attended Indiana University for a time.

So it would seem that the stars have aligned, and the George R. Stewart has found a fine home.