AAR’s Ellen Micheletti was recently mourning the sad passing of a Waldenbooks in her town in Kentucky. I well know the feeling.
Until about five years ago, there were two malls in my area — Tysons Corner in Virginia and Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, Maryland — that were the best places to find romance novels. The B. Dalton in Tysons and the Waldenbooks in Maryland were part of what used to be ubiquitous mall chains.
What made them so special? For a while there — and I’m talking five or more years — each store was lovingly tended by people who knew and cared about romance. Books were shelved face out, letting publisher art departments do their job by inviting the reader to pick up a book and read the back copy. Books were also shelved on a regular basis so it actually paid to check back in frequently to see what new treasures might have arrived since my last visit.
Back in the days before the Internets, the B. Dalton romance newsletter was my major source of info about upcoming releases. It didn’t amount to much other than what seemed to me to be a comprehensive listing and book blurbs, but I looked forward to it. And it actually helped guide my reading choices.
What’s also true is that now my book buying is different. The days when I browsed and bought impulsively in brick and mortar stores are long gone, thanks to reviews and online readers. Still, I like to browse at bookstores — well, check that. I used to enjoy browsing at bookstores when books weren’t shoved spine-in on shelves in the booth in the back in the corner in the dark.
Back in the golden days of B. Dalton and Waldenbooks, romance was, in short, not treated like an embarrassing aunt as it is at Borders and Barnes & Noble. Okay, let me correct that, at the Borders Friendship Heights, Borders White Flint Plaza, Borders L Street, Barnes & Noble Georgetown, and Barnes & Noble Bethesda, to be specific.
And there’s something else I mourn. Borders and Barnes & Noble are big box stores in big box locations — and that means a schlep is required. I miss the days when there was a bookstore in every strip mall (I’m still mourning the loss of Crown Books) and book shopping wasn’t such a destination. You could pop into a bookstore and pick up a book while you were picking up your groceries — and, hey, that was a good thing.
The B. Dalton at Tysons actually closed a few years ago. It was replaced by a Barnes & Noble. The Waldenbooks is still at Montgomery Mall (correction: Westfield Shopping Town: Montgomery — and, yes, an eye roll goes along with that) , but the mojo isn’t. Romances aren’t shelved and displayed with an eye that let you know that they knew what was good — and they wanted you to find it, too.
Lack of consumer choice is never a good thing. And the Borders and Barnes & Noble-ization of bookstores has sucked the life of this once big time brick and mortar shopper. Since the demise of the heyday of mall bookstore, I haven’t come across a single store — and there are many in my area — that’s made me want to shop for romance. That’s made it easy to shop for romance. That’s made me feel as if they cared about romance.
And that is the single biggest reason why I got my Kindle. And, while I love my Kindle and the ease and convenience is a massively wonderful thing, I miss book shopping. I really, really do.
- Sandy AAR