Upon hearing of the closure of a bookstore, my first instinct is to offer condolences. After talking to them, however, I find that congratulations are more in order.
Unlike the Paperback Exchange, who tragically lost their lease, The Book Habit’s closure is their own decision. It could not have been easy decision to make; but the owner is 85, her son has health issues that make it hard for him to work there, and recently the store had mostly been run by in-laws, who might have been motivated more by duty than by bibliophilia: not a long-term situation.
I remember going there as a youth. My grandma would take the family down to Jackson Booksellers, across the way. Everyone would stay there and look around, but I would usually sneak out and go into The Book Habit by myself.
Now that I’m on the other side of the counter, I understand how the owner must have felt toward me: kinship through books. One of the great joys for a bookseller is to see a kid come in alone and browse through the books. At the time, however, I was slightly intimidated by her, seeing as how she was so OLD (probably in her fifties) and surrounded by strange tomes.
Reminiscing about this, the owner’s in-laws tell me that the days of the adjacent Jackson/Book Habit stores were the best: very busy, and even profitable. The Golden Age, if you will.
A year or two ago, The Book Habit put the business up for sale. Selling a bookstore is tough to do, because there’s not normally much profit for the new owners to count on. When I bought the Albany store, my only real motivation was that I wanted a store in Albany. No such luck for The Book Habit in finding a buyer, so a going-out-of-business sale was the way to go.
Is it tough to see your business end? Yes. Is it tough to watch books sell for less than what you paid? Yes. Undoubtedly an emotional and even frustrating time for the owner.
However, think of her success. Thirty years of running a bookstore is absolutely something to be proud of. Whether it’s nourishing the growing love of reading in a kid like me, or tracking down elusive titles for avid readers and collectors, or supporting the literary culture in Salem, the owner should be proud of her contribution to the community.
It’s so easy to point fingers at people spending time on cell phones instead of books, or reading ebooks instead of books, or ordering online from a megacorp instead of buying locally. However, after staying open for three decades, I don’t think anyone should consider The Book Habit a failure.