Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mom and Pop Need More Advice than Sympathy

I read the news today, like many others, that Duthie Books on 4th Avenue here in Vancouver is closing its doors for the last time this year. Also like many others, I initially responded to the extremely sympathetic and non-constructive piece I read with empathy for its owners and outrage at the system in general for allowing "our" Vancouver landmark bookstore to die out completely, location by location. With media ranging in its stance from simply not coming up with any ways the businesspeople involved could have handled things differently to suggesting directly that there was no way, it seemed rather "open and shut", that there were no other ways to think about it. To further exacerbate this, papers are quick to point out that X big box retailer and Y internet market are to blame. However, after a little thought, I have come full circle, and believe that there can be no logical basis to feel sorry for this business or any other who falls victim to changing times.

The way I see it, there are two possible conclusions to come to here, both more reasonable than simply writing the issue off to evil collusion of multinational and "greed machine" government, as you see in the comments of the aforelinked Globe and Mail article. The first, and most likely, is that the charm of this mom and pop store is simply outweighed by the organizational structure and purchasing power of larger stores, and convenience of online outlets. That's not a good or bad thing, it would just indicate that it's what the people want. Sad, but true, those big round chapters discount stickers excite us more (pain in the ass as they are to get off of your new books) than the good conversation of an invested shopkeep.

The other, and more amicable of the two, for me, is that these organizations hold potential as well as standing advantages that could carry them well into the brave new world of big box books and internets, leveraged in the right ways. They could have:

- engaged in the community by promoting literacy for kids, bringing people together for events, and getting involved with local authors to really represent Vancouver

- booked sweet authors for signings and readings, and marketed those well

- inspired and mobilized the sympathy of their customers, before they had the shut-down article to do it in

- Built up their own internet business, if only for soft services: reccomendations, chatter with regulars, a healthy twitter feed and a blog, etc

- Really paid attention to their regulars, finding out why they are still coming and how to impress these reasons upon others without becoming intrusive.

- Chosen a different location than kits for their hold-out last store (this is no doubt the priciest of all of them, and the spot with the most competition)

I could go on, and maybe some of these have been tried to some extent, but that's not my point. My point is that this business was charged with having what it takes to continue to survive in the same system that allowed it to begin, and it didn't. RIP, pour out a little liquor for your bookstores that passed away, but in this economic time of change and fervor it was nobody else's fault they didn't see this one coming and do something about it. I see too many of these "oh poor me" mom and pop stories, and I'm at the point now where you might say I'm "desensitized".

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