Sunday, August 21, 2011

Local bookstore shutters: we've met the enemy and it is us

Like most other local bibliophiles, I was incredibly saddened to learn of the closing of Red Fox Books in Glens Falls. They did a great job in reaching out to the community with a wide variety of programs, in bringing in a wide variety of authors both local and national and providing great, engaging customer service. It managed to survive for five years in an area which has struggled economically for the last 30 years and is a tough market for independent retailers. Red Fox’s demise was particularly disappointing since its opening was the culmination of a several year campaign to bring a full service bookstore to Glens Falls.

Like many other local bookstores in the country, Red Fox was badly affected not only by online retailers (which were in existence when RF opened) but particularly by the sharp rise in popularity of Amazon.com’s Kindle e-reader. Once you factored in shipping, the amount you’d save shopping at Amazon was usually quite minimal unless you bought a lot of books at a time. You could order just about any book via Red Fox’s website and pick it up at the store at no extra charge. You could buy e-books via Red Fox’s website and their pricing was pretty comparable to the Barnes and Noble, iTunes and the like. But many locals insisted on shopping at BN.com or Amazon to save 25 cents. The result: a failed local business, local people unemployed, the loss of choice for local bibliophiles and the loss of a good amount of local sales tax revenue. Enjoy that quarter!

One thing people who prefer this digital method of reading need to understand is that not all e-readers are created equal. If you buy the B&N Nook, the Apple iPad, Sony e-reader or some other kind, you can buy e-books at the site of the company who produced the e-reader but you can also buy them at your local independent bookstore (if you have one) and you can also get them via the library. But if you buy a Kindle, you have no choice; you are shackled to Amazon.com as your sole vendor. E-book readers have a choice that we physical book readers just lost... but make sure your decisions don’t eliminate that choice.

Of course, a great big thank you goes to Red Fox's owners Susan and Naftali for their great contribution to our community. It will be sorely missed.

A somewhat related piece of news that caught my eye was the closure of the Lowe’s big box home improvement store in Ticonderoga. Chains and big corporations do have some advantages over independent businesses, but one big disadvantage that can be summed up quite simply: easy come, easy go. Lowe’s lasted on two years in Ti before pulling the plug. Of course, one wonders what sort of damage it did to locally-owned businesses in that brief time period.

On North Country Public Radio’s In Box blog, commenter and Adirondack Almanack founder John Warren asked: How many people lost their jobs in Jay, Ticonderoga, and Port Henry because this store sapped their local business over the past several years? Those who opposed this store as strip development blight out of character with the rest of the community and a drain on local economies were right. Who will move into this 440-car parking lot and empty 150,000 square foot big box?... NCPR should now be holding those elected officials accountable by asking why they pushed for such risky development without concern for the locally owned businesses and historic character of Ticonderoga...

Local officials should definitely focus on helping small and medium locally-owned businesses, as the Lowe’s debacle illustrates. But the community has a responsibility too. Those locally-owned businesses can survive if local people are spending their money instead supporting chains half a country away.

Locals like to scapegoat boogeymen like 'big government' and 'onerous regulations' for the region’s sluggish private sector economy. And yet how many of us CHOOSE to send their own money to private sector businesses halfway across the country rather than comparable ones on Main Street in our own towns?

1 comment:

bevst said...

The disaster in Ticonderoga with Dunkin Donuts, Rite Aid and now Lowe's closing at the "four corners" is a positive warning (oxymoron) to all Adk communities. Walmart is NOT the answer to improving economies in our commmunities! Thanks goodness Lake Placid and Saranac Lake had the fortitude to oppose and prevent big box stores!!!