Friday, February 11, 2011

Shuttered Bookstores Leave Me With That Empty Feeling

Borders and Barnes & Noble, the two chain bookstores that were located practically across the street from each other in Downtown Santa Barbara have both been closed for a little over a month now and I sure do miss them.

The empty Borders bookstore on State Street.

I live Downtown and on the weekends when my 15-year old daughter comes over to visit we often go for a walk down to Paseo Nuevo Mall. When we arrive at the mall my daughter invariably gives me that look. You know, the one where she turns to me and without saying so much as a single word conveys the unmistakable message: "Dad, it's time for you to make yourself scarce while I go shopping." (Because we all know that the most mortifying prospect in the life of a teenage girl is to get busted by one of her friends while shopping with her father tagging along.)

I may be stupid but I'm not dumb. I got the message and I would usually take refuge in either Borders and Barnes & Noble killing time browsing the shelves or sitting and reading magazines.

Of course, I can't do that anymore and I'm probably part of the reason why the two stores closed as I, and a lot of other people apparently, did too much browsing and not enough buying hence hastening the departure of the brick and mortar bookstores.

Having been part of the problem I now find myself in the position of the child who has committed parricide and am throwing myself on the mercy of the court because, after all, I'm now an orphan.

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In addition to being without a place to browse the demise of the bookstores has raised a different problem for another group among us: Where is an author expected to peddle a book these days?

Authors trying to hustle their books would often do book signings at either Borders or Barnes & Noble. For the customers it was a chance to meet the author and listen to him or her read a chapter from their book and if you actually dipped into your pocket and sprung for a copy you could get the author to actually sign it for you.

While the opportunities for that kind of interaction have dwindled they haven't disappeared altogether. You just have to search a little harder for them.

Last week during the Film Fest, David Prybil, author of the book I'm currently reading Golden State,was at the Book Den on Anapamu to sign and read from his novel. Evidently believing that truth is stranger than fiction, Prybil took the basic facts surrounding the California recall election that gave us Governor Schwarzenegger and turned it into a work of fiction.

This Saturday, friend and local author Leslie Westbrook will be signing her new book on the history of Santa Barbara City College from 3pm to 5pm at Tecolote Bookshop in Montecito's Upper Village.

I'm sure that Chaucer's on upper State Street and of course the Borders in Goleta will continue to host book signings as well. But being a denizen of Downtown it's not as convenient for me to get to those last two outposts.

With clothing retailers reported to be the new tenants at the venues that formerly housed the Downtown bookstores we figure to have the opportunity to be better dressed even if we won't be as well read. While that may make my daughter happy, I'm not sure if that's a good trade off.

And as far as filling the book signing void, maybe those clothing retailers can have Kathy Ireland come in and read the care labels off of her line of clothing and then sign the price tags for you?

Naw, not even that would be as good as a real live author.
© 2011 by Craig Smith and