Why it's important for communities to have bookstores

Ann Patchett.

Image of State of Wonder
Author: Ann Patchett
Publisher: Harper (2011)
Binding: Hardcover, 368 pages

Tess Vigeland: Back when Barnes & Noble and Borders began their takeover of the bookstore market, the biggest worry was about what would happen to the local corner bookseller. Many of them closed. Today, the bigger question is the survival of the brick-and-mortar bookstore. Borders went bankrupt. Barnes & Noble is up for sale.

In at least one community -- Nashville, Tenn. -- there are no longer any bookstores. So resident Ann Patchett is stepping into the breach. She's the bestselling author of Bel Canto, now on tour promoting her new novel, State of Wonder. And she's here to tell us about her other project. Welcome.

Ann Patchett: Hi.

Vigeland: It's hard to imagine a major city like Nashville with no bookstores.

Patchett: We have some great used bookstores, but frankly, as a writer with a new book out, that just doesn't do me a whole lot of good.

Vigeland: And so the idea that sprang out of this is to start your own.

Patchett: Yes, and I had that idea after Davis-Kidd closed. I have to get in there and start a bookstore. I looked into it. I realized I had no idea what I was doing. A friend of mine said you're like a really good cook who thinks she should open a restaurant because she knows how to cook, and it's not the same thing.

Vigeland: A little more to it than that.

Patchett: Yes. And then I met a terrific woman named Karen Hayes who was a sales rep for Random House and she was opening a bookstore and so what I've done is partnered with her. And I've thrown myself into this, in this project, and I'm really excited about it. It's going to work.

Vigeland: What are you finding most surprising about that entrepreneurial effort?

Patchett: I think that what's amazing to me is that we go and look at these properties that have no walls and there is a toilet sitting sideways in the middle of the floor and no ceiling. And Karen looks around and says, "You know, I think this place has great potential." I'm like, let's just leave now before a rat bites us. I have no vision. I want everything to be clean and perfect and neat. I sort of expect to go into a building and see the shelves already there.

Vigeland: But for a living, you make up things in your head. You bring things up out of whole cloth. So this should come naturally to you.

Patchett: You're right! I should be able to do this. There is a real discrepancy between the person who makes the product that's sold in the store, and the person who makes the store that sells the product. But I keep thinking if I was a watchmaker and all the jewelry stores went out of business, I'd have to open a jewelry store. Right?

Vigeland: Right. Why do you think it's important for a community like Nashville -- and any community -- to have its own bookstore?

Patchett: I think that it really is an important part of the fabric of the community. For one thing, we have to raise up readers. So you've got to have a store where you can take your children and let them play, and look at books, and go sneak off and look at a couple of books yourself. I think it's a community center. People come together for book groups and for public readings. I don't think that it's something that needs to be 30,000 sq. feet anymore. But I think 2,000 sq. feet, 4,000 sq. feet -- that's something that the community can sustain and really needs. The outpouring of love and joy that we have had since we announced that we are going to do this bookstore has been overwhelming.

Vigeland: Presumably the departures of the previous bookstores owed a lot to technology. And I have to say, I'm newly a convert to reading all my books on my iPad. I download them from Amazon. Oh, I know. She's making a gun pointed at me. Yeah, I'm not your best friend, I suppose, any more?

Patchett: I'm with you until say, "I download all my books from Amazon." Because I do think that there are other e-reader options, where you're going to be able to go in and buy your electronic book in your local, independent bookstore. Number one -- the thing that's most important to me -- is that people read. And how people choose to read, I am glad that there are more and more options. There are a lot of people I know -- my husband being the top on the list -- who read so much more now that they have e-readers.

Vigeland: I find, same thing.

Patchett: Absolutely. I think that's great. But I think that there is still a place for a bricks-and-mortar bookstore selling books with paper. Not everybody is going to want to read in the same way. And the thing that a bookstore is going to offer that your e-reader is never going to give you is you're going to be able to say, I just read this book, I loved it so much, and recommend something like that. And I'm going to be there to do it, or Karen's going to be there to say, what you need to read this and put a book in your hands.

Vigeland: Well if I had Ann Patchett recommending my books for me in person, I would be there.

Patchett: Exactly. That's really what we're banking on.

Ryssdal: Ann Patchett, her new book is called State of Wonder. Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure speaking with you.

Patchett: Thank you.

About the author

Tess Vigeland is the host of Marketplace Money, where she takes a deep dive into why we do what we do with our money.

Ann Patchett.

Image of State of Wonder
Author: Ann Patchett
Publisher: Harper (2011)
Binding: Hardcover, 368 pages
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don't miss the tree from the forest...the traditional book is an endangered species.

First off, Kudos (kudoi?)to Ann and her associate for trying to bring another Indepdent new bookstore to Middle Tennessee, especially with the economy still recovering from the Great Recession. It won't be an easy task.
For those not familiar with the Athens of the Souoth (aka Nashville)the issue is not whether you can find a place to sit an read books, or buy used books (both things which I also love to do) but whether there is an non-corporate bookstore that sells new books. The big box chain bookstores is in large measure why there are so few community based bookstores anymore. Just as big box retailers killed the mom and pop furniture, clothing, hardware, etc,stores, so too the chains drove out the indie's, here and elsewhere.

As an author, let me give y'all an example. A few years back I was booked to do an author event at the now defunct Borders on West End in Nashville. I showed up at the appointed time only to find nothing ready and the clerks there without a clue about it. Copies of my new book were found in the store room and they jerry-rigged a corner for me to sit in where I would't get in the way of their selling coffee. Needless to say, I was not amused;Borders is sinking fast, but in the process they have driven hundreds of local bookstores out of business. THAT IS WHY WE NEED YOU ANN!

While I commend Ms. Patchett's interest in book stores, I have to wonder - has she not heard about public libraries? Everything she mentions as a need met by book stores is a service provided by your local public library. A community gathering place- check, a place to bring children to encourage a love of books - check, a place to get reading recommendations - check. Again - her effort is commendable, but I'd rather she use her celebrity to increase funding for public libraries - which are always at risk.

A response to Phillip White. I started Rhino Books with 3000 titles. We know stock over 100,000
books with little duplication.
New bookstores can return books that haven't sold an option unavailable to me. I'd like to see a story on where folks find books by authors like Anne Patchett to sell for
a penny on line.

Chris - she said no NEW bookstores. There's a difference. And the link you posted? Maybe you better take a better look at it. First up in the search is Davis-Kidd, which they talked about having closed a year ago in this article, followed next by Borders, also that they talked about having closed. Sherlock's downtown is closing if it hasn't already, and Books a Million is pretty much Belle Meade, it just has a Nashville mailing address. As for the used bookstores, they all have short hours that make it hard for any of us to get to.

As for all of you who have talked about libraries. I have dealt extensively with the Nashville Library system, and certain people are awesome, but more often than not, I get somebody who can't figure out how to return a phone call (what do you mean that phone number you gave me with an area code was long distance?!), don't want to help, etc. I'll never use their meeting rooms again because it's too difficult to get to use one, and unless it's a librarian I know personally, I'll take all my needs somewhere else. As for borrowing books, yeah, I do that. But I run in and run back out - I never wander around like I do at bookstores, and I'm not going to start random conversation with somebody shopping next to me.

Ann - if you're reading this article. I would *love* to help with the bookstore. When we heard that you were opening one, we were ecstatic.

Library? Yeah, library! You really dropped the ball on this story--all talk of bookstores, when most libraries offer the same sense of community and expert advice (I am a librarian) for "free."

Rhino Books said, "Everyday I watch customers shopping with their
cell phones comparing my prices to " scanner monkeys" who are selling books out of a closet, garage or spare room without the endless business
taxes and overhead a brick and mortar store encounters daily." This is exactly why the brick and mortar bookstore business model is flawed.

If you, as a bookstore owner, have a problem with people buying your books elsewhere, why not buy those books from "elsewhere" yourself and offer them for sale in your store?

Or, why not have a cover charge? I'd pay it, if you then offer me some free or discounted coffee, couches, etc.

The only major chain bookstores left in Nashville are a Books-A-Million in West Nashville and several bookstores in the airport. There are bookstores on the campus of several universities in Nashville including Vanderbilt University, Belmont University, Lipscomb University, and Tennessee State University to name a few. There are also several specialty bookstores in Nashville mostly focusing on Christian literature. Not to mention all the great used bookstores like Rhino and McKay's. If you want chains, those are also located in surrounding suburban counties (there is still a Barnes & Noble and a Borders in Brentwood). And finally, let us not forget that Nashville has one of the best public library systems around with 20 community branches supported by the central library located downtown.

As the chief merchant for the nation's third largest bookstore chain, I was astounded that this report claimed that there are no bookstores in Nashville. Metropolitan Nashville is home to numerous bookstores including Books-A-Million and Barnes and Noble,


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