Supporting Community Bookstores

by admin on June 1, 2012

Now that the world championship match is over, the confetti has been cleaned up and things are getting back to normal, I want to tell you about a non-chess topic that is close to my heart.

One of Santa Cruz County’s independent booksellers, the Capitola Book Café, has just launched a fund-raising campaign called Survive & Thrive. Not to put too fine a point on it, they are in danger of going out of business. That’s the “survive” part. But at the same time, they also want to reorganize their business into a for-profit part (the store) and a non-profit part called Books Belong, which will sponsor workshops, classes and cultural programs. That’s the “thrive” part. It’s exactly what a community needs, and exactly what a bookstore makes a perfect venue for.

Some of you may know that Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, another cultural icon in the San Francisco Bay Area, is using a similar model to revive its business, which actually did close briefly in 2005. You can click here to read about their Kepler’s 2020 project. It’s no accident that these long-established, well-run community bookstores are having trouble now. They can’t compete with Amazon.com … a big company that does absolutely nothing to contribute to communities. You might say, “Well, tough luck, the economy is changing, and you’ve got to adapt to it.” In fact, Kepler’s and Capitola Book Café are trying to adapt. But at the same time, they’re competing on a very unfair playing field, where Amazon.com is sometimes selling books for less than the independent stores can even get them.

This fund-raising campaign won’t change that, but what it will do is enable the bookstore to apply for grants with its new non-profit arm. It’s only fair that they should be able to do that, as a cultural resource for the community.

I’ve given money to the Capitola Book Café’s campaign, and I hope that some of you (no matter how far away you may be) will consider doing the same. For me, it boiled down to the following reasons:

  • They’ve supported me as a local writer. When my first book, The Big Splat, came out, my second public appearance was at the Capitola Book Café. That’s one of my favorite memories in my whole writing career. Over the next few years, I came back three more times. They helped me… I owe them.
  • I don’t want to live in a town that can’t support a bookstore! If bookstores die out, we’re in trouble. To quote the Kepler’s website: “A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking. — Jerry Seinfeld.”
  • The problem with relying on a big company like Amazon (or Borders or Barnes and Noble) is that they might just go away. Several years ago, Borders built a store in Santa Cruz; then they went bankrupt, and now we’ve got a big empty building downtown. Fortunately we still do have some independent bookstores, but in many other towns and cities Borders is gone and there’s nothing to replace it. It may seem hard to imagine Amazon going away, but they aren’t immune to stupid decisions or changing economies. It’s bad to have all of our eggs in one basket.
  • To me, it’s okay if you still buy books from Amazon. We’re economic beings, and it’s our right to seek out bargains and convenience. But if we do that, we have to realize what the consequences are. Contributing to a campaign like Capitola Book Café’s or Kepler’s is a way of addressing those consequences.

If you would like to contribute, you can donate online at the Survive & Thrive page, or if you prefer, there’s a PDF form on that page that you can print out and mail in. Donations are not tax-deductible. That point gave me a little pause, but of course part of the purpose of the campaign is to set up a non-profit organization. It’s not there yet.

Finally, you might be interested to hear that one of the Capitola Book Café’s owners got an opportunity to meet Barack Obama a few days ago. (It’s campaign season, and I guess Mr. Obama is traveling a lot.) He mentioned to her that he had his own favorite neighborhood bookstore, 57th Street Books in Chicago. So even our President understands the value of community bookstores!

OK, end of fundraising speech. Sorry about the interruption! I’ll get back to chess in my next post.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Michael June 4, 2012 at 10:24 am

Thanks for the off-topic post.

I do think chess players need to support independent bookstores and cafes as it’s usually these independents that open their doors to clubs and events (without all the red-tape that larger chains require). People playing chess in public is additional evidence of people thinking.

I seem to remember seeing some signs at independent stores in Santa Cruz about “Think Local First” or something? Something to add to your list of reasons would be that a much higher percentage of the dollars spent in community stores stay in the community. There are times when Amazon and big-box stores make sense but I’d rather support my local economy.

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