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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Challenges All Over the Place

A retired professor friend was recalling errors encountered in student papers. One of his favorites was an old agrarian phrase transmuted by a city student into “a hard road to hoe.” The word “row” probably didn’t mean anything to the student, let alone “hoe” (as a garden implement, that is).

It’s cheery to see Christmas lights at the bakery and all the cars lined up outside Jeanette Egeler’s new Northport Fitness Center. The old Fitness Center up the hill has also re-opened, more expensive than downtown ($70 vs. $40/month) but with swimming pool for exercise and therapy. Things are, you see, still happening in Northport, even as the snow deepens, and I do like to stay upbeat in these pages, but--there’s no denying that the whole world these days is facing a hard row to hoe.

So, yes, uncertainty infects more than the book world, but it’s news of the book world that I receive every morning in the e-mailed newsletter “Shelf Awareness,” each new issue bringing more stories of bookstore closings. Today three such reports came from the South: 1) A Louisiana bookseller closing up shop had been in business 16 years. (Dog Ears Books will be 16 in July 2009.) 2) Another store owner in Alabama, throwing in the towel, had been disappointed when a hotel and casino planned for downtown did not come about to revitalize business. (Northport’s downtown is on a modest upswing, but state and national trends are going against us.) 3) In Georgia, a 90-year-old book dealer, in business for 40 years, is selling his stock at “almost giveaway prices.” (Is this what it comes down to in the end?) Yes, new bookstores are opening, too. Hope springs eternal, because dreams never die. And in the middle, neither giving up or just starting out, are those of us whose dreams have been tempered by reality but who carry on nevertheless, too stubborn to give up our passion.

A couple of Vermont booksellers are going the extra mile to get out the “Shop Local Business” message:

"The message is simple: support your locally owned independent business," said [Chris] Morrow [of Northshire Bookstore]. "Where you spend your money has a tremendous impact on what happens in our community. Decisions are made locally by people who are on your volunteer boards, running your Little League--it's not corporate headquarters somewhere closing a store so x number of people lose their jobs and there's a big vacant building. Since the economic collapse, people are seeing how important it is to build local resilience."

"People are getting the message," added Steve Eddy, owner of Book King, Rutland, "but I'm so enthusiastic about it, I explain it to them whether they want to hear it or not."

As I prepare my ad for the 2009 Northport High School yearbook, I muse on the roots my little business has put down in this community.

Here’s the scoop on Dog Ears Books this winter: The bookstore will be open through the December holidays, Tuesdays through Saturdays, with almost every book in stock reduced 20%. That includes (with only three exceptions) shiny, beautiful new books on the shelves and tables! I wanted to make holiday shopping on Waukazoo Street attractive this year (books are more frugal and easier to wrap than a ski vacation for the family in Vail), but the sale will also extend clear to the end of the year for those with Christmas and Hanukkah gelt to burn.

Then, after the new year, Dog Ears will be on “vacation” for three months--not because your local bookseller has gotten so rich in Northport that she’s taking off on a Caribbean cruise but because the cost of winter utilities has not been covered by sales for the last two years, and I can’t afford to squander my hard-earned summer profits. I’ll write blog postings as often as possible (perhaps “Books in Northport on the Road”); the main assignment I’m giving myself for the weeks away, however, is to finish a first draft of a YA (young adult) novel, begun longer ago than I even want to admit.

In April, the doors will re-open, and we’ll have a big, fun book launch party for Ed and Connie Arnfield’s lovely new Roadside Guide to Michigan Plants, Trees, and Flowers: An Ecological Approach, published by Arbutus Press, a wonderful kick-off to the 2009 season. Could there be a better way to start the new bookstore year? I don’t think so!


Unknown said...

The bookstores' closing is because of the economical crisis?
Ici, on ne sent pas beaucoup la crise, mais on dit qu'un grand effet de la crise va apparaître l'année prochaine en Chine.
Il ne neige pas encore à Nankin. C'est une ville où il neige moins de cinq fois par an. Et il y a des années sans neige.Les grandes neiges telle que vous montrez sur votre blog sont rares à Nankin. Il fait 20 centigrades aujourd'hui!
Il y a L'Elégance du hérisson à la bibliothèque que je fréquente, je vais le lire, merci pour la proposition.
Bon courage pour la vente et on aura tous un beau printemps!

Unknown said...

J'ai oublié de vous dire une chose importante:
Bon courage pour le novel...

P. J. Grath said...

Non, ce n’est pas à cause de la crise économique qu’on va fermer—et la fermeture dura pendant trois mois seulement. Plutôt c’est la réalité d’une région touristique, dont la saison touristique est l’été.

La population de notre village se réduit fortement en hiver, en même temps que les dépenses montent au ciel. Et ça va pas. There is not much year-round business in Northport because many of those who are here don’t shop locally; people don’t shop more locally because there aren’t a lot of year-round local businesses. I have tried for two winters to break the cycle but can’t afford the losses. So we will enjoy break, and we’ll be back in the spring.

I guess, Neige, that the description of Nanking as one of the “furnaces of China” is apt. I love the idea of those broad avenues lined with plane trees and all the outdoor cafes. Peut-être un jour….

Merci de vos bons souhaits!

Anonymous said...

Reading "bookstore closings" and "Dog Ears Books" in the same post is enough to give one the vapors. Good thing it's a long winter's nap rather than a big sleep.

What I can't figure out is this: Nortport has both a bakery and a bookstore and people drag themselves away from Waukazoo to go shopping at a mall? Curious. No accounting for tastes.

Contrarian that I am, before the season's over, I'm going to drag myself away from Sonny's Torch Lake Market to make a road trip to Northport. (Unless the Bay freezes over, in which case I hope Miss Sadie and the Cowboy can be persuaded to become sled dogs for a day.)

P. J. Grath said...

Gerry, some mornings at the bakery person after person around the table will moan that they "have" to go to Traverse City, for anything from snow tires (available here) to groceries (available here). When David and I go to the Big City, as we sometimes do, especially on a winter Sunday when Northport is closed up tighter than a drum, we're mainly going for a change of scenery.

On a cheerier note, I've had a couple customers already this morning, and there are vehicles moving around town. We're still here!

Deborah said...

Aha! A party at Dog Ears Book in April! What better reason (other than just seeing my sister Pamela) could I have for visiting in April? And just think - my dear little Bosco could once again joyfully play with cousin Sarah and Northport friend Arlo!

P. J. Grath said...

Deborah, it would be SO FUN to have you and Bosco visit in the spring! Bonnie is thinking of getting a puppy and worrying that Dusty, their collie, would be made unhappy by it. I tell her to talk to Stephanie (they just added a puppy to their formerly one-dog household), and then I describe all the fun Sarah had with Bosco. Dogs get to fulfill their dog nature when they get to play with other dogs.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

I'm sad to read of the closure of these bookshops. I hope the tide turns again soon, and that small independent businesses prosper, along with small town and village communities.

May your winter be a time of regenerating and ideas. We have a saying, 'Stick your neck out for your dreams!' Hope there's new growth and vigour in the spring.

P. J. Grath said...

Thanks, Ralph, for the words of encouragement. To balance the picture, I should probably do a post sometime on new bookstores around the country. Of course I'll be looking for bookstores on the road, too, and will report on those. Meanwhile, this month, send folks to Dog Ears for my December sale!