Community Spaces: Independent Bookstores as Gathering Spots

by Borderstan.com December 21, 2011 at 10:15 am 1 Comment

Connecticut Avenue Dupont Circle Luis Gomez Photos

Community touchpoint: Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe was used as an example of a community gathering spot. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Michelle Lancaster. Follow her and tell her your news on Twitter @MichLancaster or email her at [email protected].

Last Thursday, Salon decided to take on Slate on the importance of local bookstores, and our fair metropolis was used as Exhibit A. More specifically, a Slate author made a case for eliminating the middle man and buying directly from the authors or via sites like Amazon.

In order to combat part of the argument, that buying from Amazon is better for you, Salon painted a vivid portrait of the need and niche independent bookstores serve in their communities as gathering places, touchpoints for interaction with neighbors, etc.

Their example was Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe on a “recent evening.” While it is fun to see our stores play a role in this argument, the discussion is an interesting one. Kramerbooks, Politics & Prose and Busboys & Poets are, depending on the evening, equal parts neighborhood bar, clubhouse, meeting place and bookstore.

Is it the independence that makes them such a part of the neighborhood fabric, or is it the diversified offerings? Is that an integral part of being independent — the need to provide items other than books to customers? Discuss amongst yourselves.

  • Brad B.

    I’m largely with Farhad on this one, although I think he makes a mistake by glossing over the “indie bookstore as community anchor” argument. I think the urban left (of which I’m one) tends to over sentimentalize the indie bookstore. Vibrant communities need anchors and gathering places, but there’s no intrinsic reason that those anchors need to be bookstores. Busboys brings in speakers and authors. Art galleries bring in artists. Cafe’s can and do serve many of these purposes. And this hand-wringing would be best served by mobilizing support for public libraries–instituions which provide myriad other services in addition to their ability to anchor literary communities, and do so at a much lower marginal cost to citizens by distributing the cost across the entire tax base rather than the narrow sliver that purchases books from indie bookstores. I say go to amazon, save money, and use that extra cash buy more books, support a local cafe, and donate/lobby for your local library. Win/win/win/win.


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