Today I bought a full price book. $14.95 plus tax. Turns out, there is actually a fixed retail market price printed right on the back cover of books! Even more shocking, there are stores that sell the book for that price! Even more alarming, people buy these full priced books! Agggghhhh. I had no idea.
As a frequent shopper of books on Half.com and Half Price Bookstores, it is a rare, bi-yearly event if I buy a book at full price. Because I possess a great deal of patience and can usually tame the instant-gratification-shopper-monster inside of me, ordering a book online is not a torturous waiting game. As a broke book lover it actually allows me to get my hands on more books. While I read one, I order another, usually for about a dollar with a few bucks for shipping. It’s like Netflix for books.
But I felt a slight conviction today that turned into a deep sense of wanting to actively pursue justice for the world’s small business owners as I visited one of many locally owned bookstores here in Durango, Colorado.
I walked into a well-lit, cramped bookstore that was positively magical. Two shelves of books in the middle of the 10-foot wide store piled high in a completely chaotic order to the normal eye. Kids books lining the walls. With pictures of dragons and fairy tales above them and hundreds of adult books looming across the way like branches weighing down an old tree. The lady behind the teacher’s desk, which held the register, appeared to be in her mid 50’s and was ringing up a purchase for a little girl. Eighteen dollars. It overwhelmed me, not the price, though it seemed incredibly high, but that old nostalgia of buying books as a child. It was a door to another world. As the girl smiled and carried her books out of the store, the lady wrote down the purchases in an old fashioned ledger. I knew then, I had found the real deal.
Immediately I was thinking Meg Ryan in, “You’ve Got Mail.” Her mom’s store, Tom Hanks’ mega Barnes and Noble-ish store putting the locals out of business, and Meg’s valiant fight to keep the family owned jewel alive.
The librarian appeared around the corner. She felt like a librarian in charge of her own fanciful dream world.
“I know it looks chaotic, I just can’t figure out how to fit all the books in here that I want,” she said as she approached me and began to tell me which books were in which sections. It looked like the kind of library I would run: if you want it, fin for yourself.
As I came across Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, being the chatterbox I am, I asked her if she had read this book. This started a twenty-minute conversation about her hiking trips to Greece and Nepal, her past life as a longtime educator, her going away gift to all the staff, a copy of the new book, Three Cups of Tea, and her favorite book selections right now.
At this point I had to buy something. I settled on The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo. I did not buy it out of guilt. Like, “oh this sweet lady has talked to me so much I would feel awful to not buy something from her.” Much like my sister Melissa did to the encyclopedia man who came to the door in high school, laid it on thick, and she ended up signing my parents up for a follow up visit and an order of 36 behemoth books about the world. No.
Instead, I bought for the love of the locals. The local bookstore owner has a wealth of knowledge and personal customer service that cannot be received equally anywhere else. They bring to their stores creativity, imagination, unique service, and more importantly, passion. Sure, I could get the same book anywhere and for much cheaper (ok, I just checked, 75 cents on half.com..ouch), but in a world of corporate takeovers by Wal Mart, Barnes and Noble, McDonald’s, and Macy’s there is something refreshing and life giving about shopping at a place that exists yes, for money, but more importantly for the love of what they do.
I love a capitalist society as much as anyone. But I wish it did not have to come at the expense of the locals, the dreamers, and the small business owners…if only they could survive.
So, I sucked it up. My deeply engrained thrifty mind was thrashing inside me as I reached for my wallet and announced out loud that I had settled on a book. My fingers fought against me as I pulled out my debit card. My mind raced through all the websites I could visit to get this book for next to nothing and my face grimaced as she pulled the trigger…
But then she stuck my book in a plain, brown, lunch sack and told me she would love to hear my thoughts on the book. And a smile came over my face.
I made the right decision.