For all the talk of sleek Kindles and sexy new e-books, there’s a piece of the story that’s missing — the bookstore as a physical space where readers emotionally and literally connect with books and the people who love them. Those of us who love to read, let alone authors with a very vested interest in people buying and reading our books, know the power of a terrific bookstore and the infectious enthusiasm of the people who choose to hand sell books.
Laredo, Texas, a poor border town, will see the closing of its only bookstore, B. Dalton, on January 16, writes The Wall Street Journal:
Laredo sits on the border with Mexico. It’s a poor city filled with immigrants who don’t speak English, let alone read it. A federal survey several years ago found half the adults in the county lack basic literacy skills.
Audio: Kids Fight for Bookstore
Matt Nager for The Wall Street JournalXavier Garcia and Joe Garcia IV read at the B. Dalton bookstore in Laredo, Texas.
Its 2,800 square feet offer Japanese comics and Charles Dickens and Pat the Bunny and Twilight, along with magazines from Bead & Button to Small Arms Review. Kids plop themselves on the floor to read, so absorbed they barely notice as shoppers step over them. Adults lean against the packed shelves, browsing.
Out front, a family laden with shopping bags passed, the parents tugging their son toward a sale at Macy’s. Ms. Benavides saw him and called out: “Hector!” He rushed over for a hug. “What are you into these days?” she asked.
He shrugged shyly. “Weather.”
“Still the weather?” Ms. Benavides said. “OK. I’ll find you a real good book about weather.”
It is that kind of bookstore. So residents have launched a campaign to save it — or, failing that, to persuade another chain to bring this city of 230,000 another bookstore.
More than a hundred school children have written letters to Barnes & Noble executives.
Reports the AP:
In the meantime, without a single independent bookseller, Laredo may be in a league of its own among big cities.
Though an independent bookstore is the only one of its kind in Newark, N.J., a city of nearly 288,000, big chains are nearby in the suburbs or New York City. Laredo is surrounded by nothing more than rural ranching towns on its side of the border.
“We suffer, but we don’t suffer to the extent that a Laredo would,” said Wilma Grey, director of the Newark Public Library.
Some worry that the closing could send a message that books and reading are not priorities in Laredo, a hot, steamy city of 230,000 that is choked by smog from trucks lining up at the border, which is home to the nation’s biggest entry point for trucks and trains.
Nearly half of the population of Webb County, which includes Laredo, lacks basic literacy skills, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.