The New Christmas Shopping

giftbooks Once upon a time, in an economy much better than the one we have today, going out of business sales were a gleeful event for me. I would cheerfully scavenge through the picked over aisles looking for hidden treasures and incredible “steals”. I do my Christmas shopping all year long, so many of my finds were put carefully away to be lovingly wrapped in December. Oh, how thrilled I was to be able to provide gorgeous gifts at a discounted price. Of course this was back in the days when it seemed that most going out of business sales meant either the shop had been mismanaged or the owners were retiring. Most of the ones I shopped were due to the latter reason and so there was joy all around. They were happy to unload the unwanted merchandise, I was happy to snap it up at bargain price.

Then Amazon happened. I want to state at the outset that I am one of the reasons Amazon happened. I own multiple Kindles, and I purchase hardback and paperback books from them on a regular basis. But I was still mostly shopping at my brick and mortar stores. I guess I noticed the dwindling business, but I never really followed the dots and saw it as a sign of the end.

It was though. It began with the pretentious little shops like Canterbury Tales. Manned by snooty staff and filled with only classics and “literary” works, I did not mourn its demise. Others like it also quietly closed their doors. I still wasn’t worried. I had wondered who shopped there anyway when there were no rewards cards, the clerks looked down on you, and you could buy the books less expensively elsewhere.

I felt the pain when my local Waldenbooks closed. It was my favorite place to shop for books. I knew the staff by name, they knew my children and I by name. They recognized my voice when I called. It was there that I celebrated the midnight release of the seventh Harry Potter. There that I reserved my copies of books like Breaking Dawn and A Clash of Kings. This was a deeply personal loss and I had to watch as friends struggled to find new jobs in an economy that was turning bleaker by the day. I reluctantly shifted my business to the big Borders store in town.

My relationship with them barely lasted two years. It was at this point that the true financial troubles of the company became known. Half of the stores would be closing. There was no glee as I shopped their shelves for deals, just a sort of grim sorrow that seemed to pervade all the customers in there with me. We couldn’t believe this was happening. And it wasn’t just the Borders; up and down the street all sorts of stores and restaurants were locking their doors for the final time.

At this point I still had one place left to use my preferred customer discount card. On the far side of town there was one Borders left. It was a bit run down, perpetually understaffed and a long drive. I would go out there every once in a while but I just couldn’t make that long trip very often. Then of course came the final blow. There are no more Borders, no more places to take my discount card.

It hits me hard right now because so many of the places where I picked up stocking stuffers and little giftables no longer exist. It is hard to be sneaky about Christmas shopping when the UPS guy arrives after my children are already home. They get giant grins on their faces when I take the package to my room unopened. They know that if that had been a book for me or something for dad it would have been opened right then and there.

And I miss my friends and hope they are well. No, we didn’t call each other and get together, but a book buying (or knick knack buying) trip always took longer because the person behind the counter and I knew each other. I always spent a good twenty minutes chattering away with whoever was in the store, talking books or generalities about our lives. You can’t do that at Target, no matter how friendly the cashier is. There’s always a line, the staff is always changing.

This hasn’t destroyed the holiday. I am still baking and decorating and listening to carols and celebrating the true meaning behind this most magical of seasons. I have begun my sugar cookie feasting (the entire month of December is one big sugar high) and of course have been chugging the hot cocoa. I am happy to have family and friends around me to remind me that the real glitter isn’t in the tinsel or lights but in the fellowship of the ones I love.

But shopping this Christmas marks the start of a very different type of gift buying season. How about for you? Are your old haunts still there? Has anything about the economy changed the way you do Christmas? And do you buy books or gift cards at all during the season? [If gift cards, feel free to send some my way! ;) ]

– Maggie Boyd

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13 Responses to The New Christmas Shopping

  1. Leigh AAR says:

    Since the 1990′s I have lived in towns that didn’t have a national bookstore, so visiting them hasn’t been a part of my Christmas buying. I always associate visiting kitchen stores with my mother’s Christmas stocking. We would each buy each other special hot chocolate mixes or coffee. I usually would get her books, but I could easily find them at Wal-Mart. Then I would visit the local department store for either earrings or her favorite body lotion.

  2. LeeB. says:

    I agree with you about Waldenbooks. I always talked to the staff in one downtown store. That store closed a lot before others did but just a block away was Brentano’s (an offshoot of Waldenbooks) but that closed a few years later.

    Another shop that closed, by the owner’s retirement before the economy went south, was “Best of All Worlds,” which basically had nutcrackers, cards, gift books, linens, candles and similar from European buying trips. Loved that store.

  3. Maria D. says:

    I love going to stores where I know the sales people but that’s really almost becoming a thing of the past. I do miss the bookstores that have closed but I really can’t blame Amazon for it – a lot of the problems have to do with mismanagement at the top of the national chains. I hope more independent book stores open this coming year- I just hope I can find some cool stocking stuffers at B&N

  4. I worked at Borders for 10 years before leaving to teach English overseas. During the time I worked there, my family counted on me to get them books for all occasions and Borders, bless their hearts, gave employees a 40% discount for a short period before Christmas as well as a monthly book credit for full time employees (at least when I worked there.) It was wonderful.

    Lucky for me, I got out before the roof caved in, but we all knew it was coming. I hated seeing my friends looking for jobs. The store I worked at closed almost 3 years ago now. One of my life dreams was to have a photo of myself standing on the information desk holding my book. The author copy of my book arrived the very week the store was closing. With some subterfuge, I managed to get that photo, but it’s bittersweet.

  5. AAR Sandy says:

    Well said, Maggie. Christmas shopping is certainly going to be different this year.

  6. dick says:

    I’ve lived for over four decades in a small town which over the years lost shoe stores, clothing stores, all but one grocery, and the most dire of all, three lumber/hardware businesses. I had to drive 16 miles to get a particular size screw or bolt or a two by four.
    Things are looking up though. The local Roman Catholic church and a home for the developmently disabled are re-opening a hardware store.

  7. Veronica says:

    Great post, Maggie. The blame goes all the away around- mismanagement, snobbiness, greed, and shoppers not seeing the writing on the wall. We’re encouraging the kids to buy fewer things of higher quality at local places (as long as the staff are good :) )

    • Maria D. says:

      Veronica: Great post, Maggie. The blame goes all the away around- mismanagement, snobbiness, greed, and shoppers not seeing the writing on the wall. We’re encouraging the kids to buy fewer things of higher quality at local places (as long as the staff are good )

      That’s great and I’m trying to do the same! And yes, a store’s staff really can make a difference!

  8. lauren says:

    Sadly my favorite used book store that has been in business for 34 yrs is going out of business…I refuse to pay full retail at the BIG stores and my last “retail” vestige is 1/2 Price Books or Amazon used. I have over the last year or so begun to patronize the library more and more as its quite affordable and between the independent library and my local county chain I usually find what I want.
    Its sad that bookstores are closing and people are losing their jobs…but my finances have changed and I must adjust and I am not alone…its the classic, damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

  9. Renee says:

    Great post, Maggie. I, like you, did not see the writing on the wall. I am from Chicago and we had a bookstore years ago called Kroch and Brentano’s. They were a precursor to Borders and Barnes and Nobles and I could have cried when they closed their doors. I thought it was a fluke; I did not realize it was the wave of the future.

    Question for the Borders folks, do you think the same will ultimately happen to Barnes and Noble or do you think they will be successful because they have been more proactive with the Nook?

  10. Jeri R says:

    I, too, felt sad when our Waldenbooks closed. It had been a part of our town for years. The staff was always knowledgeable and helpful (in a non-condescending way!) But much to my happy surprise, the manager became the librarian at our local library! I was so glad for her, and I get to keep my book chatting friend.

    As for gift cards, it seemed that my aunt and I used to just trade BAM cards. But it was really an excuse to go to the store together as we looked at all the lovely books. I’ve started the tradition with my own nieces so when they visit, we go spend the gift cards together.

  11. Susan says:

    This time of year I avoid shopping. I really really REALLY do not like to shop, and the rest of my family is about the same.

    We do not exchange gifts anymore.

    We get together on the Christmas break, eat a good dinner, and hang out. That’s it. Minimal stress and they help with clean-up.

  12. Cris says:

    Waldenbooks closing hit me hard too. I absolutely love my Nook, but there is something about browsing at an actual bookstore. The staff, the smell, getting to physically hold and flip through the books. It was the whole experience. I used to go through my entire section (Romances), collecting a big stack of books as I went along. Then I’d sit down and go through them all a few times, narrowing it down to just 2-4 books.

    Living in a small town, though, I have to admit I have really taken to shopping online!

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