Independent Bookstore Day, Open-Minded Browsing, and Shopping Local
Bookstores are hubs of culture. Humanity crosses chasms of time, geography and language with bridges made of books. Cities and towns used to be more thickly populated with independent bookstores. Stock-empowered corporations thinned our numbers in the Nineties but curious thinkers, intellectual explorers, community builders, revolutionists, dreamers and romantics cannot be fully oppressed. Happily, independent bookstore numbers have increased in recent years as new intrepid curators of dreams have joined durable bookstores like Weller Book Works in bringing broad sensibilities, unique passion, and diverse books to local readers.
Independent Bookstore Day is Saturday, April 28th. It is a day to celebrate and recognize local bookstores for the value and light we bring to community. We work hard to provide you with a smart selection of books, chosen, described and arranged by careful hands of dedicated readers. We are the people who run independent bookstores. Objects that contain spirit need to be carried in many different baskets. No-one knows enough about books to master this occupation fully. It is simply reckless to store knowledge and cultural heritage in single corporate packages. At no moment in history have monopolies served the interests of humanity or planet. In our time, there has been grave consolidation of influence in nearly every commercial sector. This is bad for society, bad for citizens and the Earth, obviously bad for diversity, and by connived extractive design, bad for local economies. If you value what we do, help your friends to visit us. Give your support to locally owned businesses of every worthy ilk.
Of course, reading is the main thing after acquiring books, but the process of examining and choosing them is itself adventure. Browsing a bookstore is not like online browsing. In Weller Book Works, one cannot ignore the vastness of the human experience. There are thousands of reading paths from which to choose. Apprehending this wealth, one is forced to accept the limits of time and the awesome and unavoidable fact that each moment is rife with choice. Open minded browsing is exploration -- mystifying, humbling and aspirational.
Open-Minded Browsing: You think you know you?
The scope of my reading interest has widened throughout my bookselling life. Maybe that’s why my favorite browsing areas in Weller Book Works are the unsorted places where new arrivals are found. The first is the New Arrivals cases right by our Used Book Buying desk on the main floor by Front Information. This is where one finds our freshly priced second-hand acquisitions. They are not in any order (Yay!) except maybe somewhat by size to accommodate cases and handling. Every day I find excitement there. Will there ever be enough time?
Just on the first of three bookcases I discover a copy of the blue pictorial cloth edition of Handcarts to Zion, the smart 1960 history of the Mormon Handcart immigration by LeRoy and Ann Hafen. I read that maybe 20 years ago. I find an oblong Dover quarto - I love Dover (they boast about having never had a best-seller) - Perspective by Vredeman de Vries with crisp architectural renderings takes me back to University of Utah art school. I still regret not learning to draw better. Oh, the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinasaurs returns me to childhood when my father sold them alongside books. I let them out one day and they wrecked the city and my faith. Sam was really mad and yelled a lot. I miss the dinosaurs and my dad.
At the west end of the Main Floor are new arrivals “To be Shelved” by our Rear Information desk. There one discovers freshly received new books alongside second hand books waiting to be sorted into proper sections. These aren’t in any order either. Look at this precious little book, Cat Poems from one of my favorite publishers, New Directions. Cat poems by William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Baudelaire and Stevie Smith and…and… I like these poets much and cats! Adam Winkler’s We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights sounds ominous and timely. The idea disgusts but not knowing stuff doesn’t alleviate consequences. Maybe Winkler can help us fix this nonsense. Makes me warm and fuzzy to see Liveright on the spine. Chemystery is a dynamic and bright graphic novel style book for kids. It grabbed my attention immediately. I had a chance to learn more than I did about Chemistry in high school. This book by C.A. Preece and Josh Reynolds makes me want to resume but other books call me. Let’s go to Rare Books!
In front of the Rare Book Desk, upstairs, are two bookcases for new arrivals. Except for very expensive and tiny items which are promptly put in locking cases, recently acquired rarities wait there until others push them toward sections. Once again, they are unarranged in stimulating and enticing chaos. Look! Here is the First Deseret Alphabet primer, an extra special one for having the seldom seen errata bound in at the terminus. And I still must get to Emerson, but maybe not this two volume set of his Essays from George Hill in Chicago, you know, the guy who printed The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, just a few years before these. Oh, ooh, here is Borges, Selected Poems, a great looking bi-lingual edition from Delacorte. And he signed this one!
This is the kind of topical juggling that occurs in a bookstore. We do it every day. I liken an open mind to a wide net. I read to catch ideas and dreams. I have been surprised too often by my discoveries to trust my taste to navigate so I toss my aspiration wide and prefer looking at unsorted books where any narrowness of my sensibilities cannot filter potential. Within a few minutes my work has presented me with handcarts, immigration, perspective, art school, dinosaurs, dreams apostasy, cats, culture, poetry, corporate threat, chemistry, Deseret Alphabet, Emerson, Oz, Borges, Mormon emigration and controversy, college, politics, science, learning, failures, weirdness, and peace. It is exhilarating, my mind races and there is so very much more.
Stencil Art by Bone
Since the first one, my special contribution to Independent Bookstore Day is a guilty pleasure for me. If staff hadn’t invited me to stencil items for our customers, I wouldn’t have suggested it but I’ve done it each year now and have more stencils than ever and they are getting better. On Independent Bookstore Day bring in an article of clothing or something flat and I’ll stencil something onto it, if you’ll let me. I’ll try to accommodate all comers 10:30 am until 3:30 pm. It’s kinda punky rebel style but that’s whence I picked up this habit, in my teens, when I needed to do this because no-one had Crass or Pere Ubu T-shirts. Smooth and light articles work best but I’ll try about anything as long as you can accept risk. Here are a few images of some of my better work.
Shopping Local is Crucial
I love our bookstore. I have worked here for 40 years and do not understand boredom. I stand in awe of the ideas, knowledge and wisdom contained in these volumes. Our bookstore is a cathedral where the spirits of all times and places meet. Books are wonderful but I am writing about this bookstore, where spirits sit in portentous crowds awaiting activation by readers, like dry seeds in wait of water. Writers bare their most profound and private thoughts for us and by reading, we extract humanity from their pages. I walk into this bookstore where I have labored most of my life, and I feel like a child in spring.
The battle to save locally owned businesses and physical stores continues. A few months ago I criticized Governor Herbert for giving tax dollars to subsidize an Amazon warehouse in Utah. If you sell anything in Utah, know that your own tax dollars are being spent to entice history’s largest retail monopoly (worse than Standard Oil or Ma Bell) to compete with you in your home town.
Stacy Mitchell has dedicated her life to causes of economic fairness and diversity and is a hero for locally owned businesses. She co-directs the Institute for Local Self-Reliance which has studied and served the interests of local businesses since 1974. She and I live with the ideas in the following list of reasons to support local bookstores and shun publicly traded corporations. The ILSR website is packed with informative and useful studies, and information and tactics for combating corporate hegemony and bringing communities and economies to sustainable local influence. Please visit the site for deep and sage insight. Below is Stacy’s list of reasons to shop at locally owned businesses, edited only slightly to remind you of bookstores. Big hugs for Stacy!
1. Local Character and Prosperity
In an increasingly homogenized world, communities that preserve their one-of-a-kind bookstores and distinctive character have economic advantages.
2. Community Well-Being
Locally owned bookstores build strong communities by sustaining vibrant town centers, linking neighbors in a web of economic and social relationships, and contributing to local causes.
3. Local Decision-Making
Local ownership ensures that important decisions are made locally by people who live in the community and who will feel the impacts of those decisions.
4. Keeping Dollars in the Local Economy
Compared to chain stores, locally owned businesses recycle a much larger share of their revenue back into the local economy, enriching the whole community.
5. Job and Wages
Locally owned businesses create more jobs locally and, in some sectors, provide better wages and benefits than chains do.
Entrepreneurship fuels America’s economic innovation and prosperity, and serves as a key means for families to move out of low-wage jobs and into the middle class.
7. Public Benefits and Costs
Local stores in town centers require comparatively little infrastructure and make more efficient use of public services relative to big box stores and strip shopping malls.
8. Environmental Sustainability
Local stores help to sustain vibrant, compact, walkable town centers, which in turn are essential to reducing sprawl, automobile use, habitat loss, and air and water pollution.
A marketplace of tens of thousands of small businesses is the best way to ensure innovation and low prices over the long-term.
10. Product Diversity
A multitude of small bookstores, each selecting books based, not on a national sales plan, but on their own interests and the needs of their local customers, guarantees a much broader range of reading choices.