Obviously, I’m a supporter of that obsolescent form of showroom known as a bookstore. Wherever I go, I make it a point to head into a city’s purveyor of texts, even if it’s a box store, to do my part to keep that genre of business alive. But sometimes, these merchants really do their best to shoot themselves in their own foot.
The other day, friends and I were hanging out on the top floor of one of the city’s go-to indie bookstores, one I’ll roam around just to hear the creak of old floorboards and inhale my requisite amount of dust for the week. And even though they’re ridiculously overpriced, I’ll still make a purchase with them every now and then, because they’re one of the few places I can find the obscure Norwegians and forgotten modernists and minor Soviet dissidents I love. But here’s the thing: being so hung up on their own excellence, inevitably, something like the following, which occurred at our last visit, happens: a seventy-year-old overall-clad Jessie Duke lookalike, noticing one of your trio is snapping a picture of the other two, makes a special trip over to your corner to huff that pictures aren’t allowed in the store. It wasn’t the policy itself that was offensive, but the hipster-sneer manner in which it was hurled, complete with a disdainful look down the nose at us squares, who might as well have been a bunch of tweens snapping selfies and harassing the surrounding area with flashes and squeals. Additionally, I’m uncertain why said policy exists, especially when no one was taking pictures of the merchandise (which is all used, and so hardly in danger of having its innovative newness spoiled by premature exposure to the public), and when the layout and contents of the store hardly constitute a trade secret.
Sure, there are places where a grouchy owner/curator is part of the charm– and in fact, there’s a bookstore across town I love, partly because the dude who sits there all day snarls at mobile phone addicts and who, I suspect, ups the price if he senses you’re not serious about the written word. Yes, I really would be happy if the guy let some sun and a bit of philanthropy into his life– but his across-the-board misanthropy is somehow different and more bearable than the brand of snottiness that resulted in one of our group’s putting back the stack she was going to purchase at the store the other night. I can only attempt to describe it as that sort of interaction in which you seem to have been placed right back in junior high, in the middle of a bunch of mean girls who’ve caught you on the worst hair day of your life, and just when you decided to wear the pair of knock-off shoes that are only a sad approximation of a brand you couldn’t afford. In the shrinking book business, there may be room, and the need, for very discerning decisions in terms of the content you carry– but chasing off anyone who was ready to lift her fist in solidarity against the onslaught of e-pulp? Bad move, old cool kid. Seriously bad move.