As an undergraduate creative writing student, I spent the majority of my disposable time and income at two independent stores in Northampton, Mass: Main Street Records and Broadside Books. I regularly took the Five College bus from Hampshire College into town and jumped off at the stop across the street from both for the sole purpose of spending time in these stacks and racks.
Hours were lost thumbing through records and craning my neck to the right to read the spines of books. I loved the smell of new paper and fresh ink, the hope of a brilliant new discovery. I made careful selections with my minimal cash, reading the back covers and first pages and maybe even a few middle pages of books, talking to the store staff about the latest and greatest new releases, placing special orders for items that weren’t in stock, reading posters and reviews. Sometimes, I came back at night for a reading by an author, where I sheepishly poured myself wine into a plastic cup and sat in a folding chair in the back row in awe. Or I listened to a singer-songwriter pour their heart out in front of an audience of twelve. It wasn’t just shopping; it was an entire cultural experience.
My now-husband and I moved to an apartment in Northampton after college, and we have always had an agreement that we will never give the other any grief about spending money on records or books, as we share a fundamental belief that a) you can never have too many of either, and b) they are the most worthy items to buy, as they give us as much nourishment as food. We continued to shop at Broadside Books, Main Street Records, The Globe Bookshop and Turn-it-Up! for all of our listening and reading desires. Then Amazon was born.
Suddenly, we could have any book or record we wanted shipped right to our front door for less money than buying it in town. The ability to search for hard-to-find albums and out–of-print titles, listen to clips and read passages right from the comfort of home made us lazy and comfortable. It wasn’t the same as browsing the stores, touching the hard covers or checking out the recommendations of staff we trusted, but it was great. So easy in our busy lives.
What happened next is that Main Street Records and The Globe shuttered their doors. They were just our local example of what Amazon (and Wal-Mart and Target) had done to independent stores all over the country. I felt personally responsible. And deeply sad.
It took a while, but I’m back to shopping at Broadside Books just as I’m back to writing being a primary focus. I always buy books there now, even ordering what isn’t on the shelves through their staff or their online system, waiting patiently for the friendly personal call that my title has come in, picking it up in person and paying a little bit more. That’s a luxury I can afford now and I feel good about helping, in my small way, to assure that a local independent shop stays in business.
I like to stop in when I have a free half hour and enjoy the smell of printing, the personal touch of a book seller guiding me to what I’m looking for, the discovery of titles I never would have found online. I often end up at the counter with twice as much as I came in for. My frequent-shopper card is getting stamped a lot. Soon, I’ll have earned $10 off a book—again.
It only pains me that I don’t get a second chance with Main Street Records.