Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Guest blogger: Carolyn Bennett

Carolyn Bennett is one of my favorite people in the book industry. She's a sales rep at BookStream, a youngish independent wholesaler (and sends out their great e-newsletter), and works part time at Oblong Books in upstate New York. She also belongs to a wonderful bookselling family: her sister Whitney works for HarperCollins, and her parents John and Betty Bennett are the proprietors of Bennett Books in Wyckoff, New Jersey. I've been lucky to get to know both John and Betty through NAIBA, and they're some of my bookselling role models.

Last week, Carolyn told me Bennett Books has made the decision to close at the end of September. The closing of an indie bookstore is always a hard thing to grapple with, and I think Carolyn's own words do it better than mine could. The following is also published in today's Shelf Awareness and on Carolyn's blog.

Epilogue: Nineteen Years Later

Back in 1988, my ten-year-old heart burst with a secret. My parents were going to open a bookstore. All they needed was a location, shelves, and books, and we were going to be in business! After harboring this secret for months, the plan finally came to fruition, and I was allowed to tell my friends that my town of Wyckoff, New Jersey was finally getting its own bookstore and my parents were opening it! Thus began two decades of an extremely successful bookstore.

In the past few days, my heart has been bursting with another piece of news. Because of recent rent increases, flat book sales, the explosion of the internet, and the high cost of much needed capital improvements, it is impossible for the store to remain in business. Bennett Books will be closed by September 30, 2007.

In the past nineteen years, I've been filled with pride for my parents' achievements. From the first book sold (The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump), to the day they finally had enough books to fill the shelves, and the two times that burgeoning stock allowed them to expand the size of the store, to the time they proudly sold and displayed The Satanic Verses, as well as Sex by Madonna despite threats of a boycott called for in a sermon given by a small-minded local pastor, to the time they found a loophole in Bergen County's blue laws which allowed them to sell books on Sundays when the chains on the highway closed (and still do) like the rest of the malls, and throughout their participation in the American Booksellers Association and the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association, The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and the Chamber of Commerce, my parents, John and Betty Bennett, have been outstanding booksellers. It's deeply unfortunate that all great things cannot last, and while I'm devastated to see my favorite bookstore go, I remain confident that independent bookselling will remain an important part of our country and communities.

The world has changed by leaps and bounds since 1988, and I don't think that anything will stop the free distribution of information on the internet, which creates formidable competition for booksellers. Even I have downloaded recipes and travel instructions instead of looking them up in a book. Despite the competition, the traditional book is not dead, and some bookstores are finding creative ways to evolve with technology. But this is not the only obstacle booksellers face.

Recently, I had a conversation with my mother about where she purchased books before the store opened. Her answer was that she, like her neighbors, had to drive to other towns, or to the mall, or not purchase books at all. Now that Bennett Books is closing, residents will yet again have to drive long distances to buy books instead of making the short trip to the town center. In the past year, almost every publisher has released at least one book about the importance of buying locally for the sake of the environment and the economy. It would be a shame if they don't make the connection that they have the power to help prevent independent bookstores from closing, and keep these vital community businesses alive. With pricing and terms that would allow independents to compete with chains, it would prevent the ever centralization of book distribution and allow local businesses to stay in business. This would be good for communities, individuals and the publishing industry itself. Unfortunately, it's too late for the people of Wyckoff, NJ, because starting October 1st, they will no longer be be able to buy their books from a local retailer.

Carolyn Bennett