A New Era

“All I can say is that the declining fortune of bookstores and Amazon’s growing monopoly do not bode well for readers. Fortunately we have all sorts of wonderful people (I’m thinking of Auroroa Anaya –Cerda and La Casa Azul Bookstore) who are bringing books to our communities in a spectacular fashion”- Junot Diaz

April 23, 2033 — It’s Saturday afternoon when you remember that you promised your 3 year old a ‘special treat’ for using the potty for a week straight.

It’s a big moment in a kid’s life.

Being the book enthusiast that you are, your first thought is a picture book from his favorite series Elephant and Piggie. You head out to the closest bookstore which happens to be Symposia—an independent bookstore in Hoboken. In an era where chain bookstores are comparable to dinosaurs, some people believe they existed while others, regardless of the fossils, refuse to acknowledge such a time; this independent bookstore is home to a bookie like you. The aroma of caramel lattes and scones is not wafting through the shelves. A gentler, more inviting smell is twisting about in the air. There are a plethora of luxuries missing from this place.

No café

No cozy chairs

No e-reader

Just books tumbling over books tumbling over more books crammed on a shelf much too small for so many books. But you love it here and the time where there were two level bookstores that were linked together like a chain gang—same color, same shape, different name, is a quickly fading gleam in your memory.

In Symposia, there is a round open area with 6ft bookshelves encircling it. There is a small chair and table with a manual register so far in the corner that it almost goes unnoticed.

While you thumb through the children’s books that are conveniently kept on the lowest possible shelf, other customers trickle in to purchase the $3 selections from the outside cart.

There is a book culture that is practically tangible in Symposia Independent Bookstore and independent bookstores across America.

In 2033, the independent bookstore circuit has stepped in as the iron lung in the book world. Symposia and independents alike are like the Greek mythology titan Atlas, holding the book world on their back.

April 23, 2013—The minute you step inside, your senses are bombarded with sights and smells that screams bookstore. There are perfectly pyramided tables of books with signs saying “Just In” or “New Arrivals” for the aimless shopper. The barista is yelling out mocha latte extra foam no whip caramel drizzle from across the store.

Before getting completely inside, the overly enthusiastic bookseller—or Nookseller is asking you if you would like to drop a few hundred bucks on a shiny new e-reader today.

“I’m at Barnes and Noble, right?”

“Yes of course! But this device will virtually take the place of bookstores and allow you to shop anywhere, anytime!” she exclaims without dropping her smile the entire time.

Then it dawns on you like a warm day in December and you realize global warming is real and you have seen it with your own eyes. The crisis in the publishing industry that is threatening to eliminate major booksellers like Barnes and Noble is evident.

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The term independent bookstore carries a stigma that is reserved for shanty like stores crowded with dusty old mass market romance novels with yellowing brittle pages. They are usually staffed by devoted book slinging warriors and the clientele are quite comparable. They are the usuals.

The booklovingdonttalktomewhileiamreadingbecauseiwillnotrespond sort.

Did you get that?

More than all of that, independent bookstores are rarely put in the same arena as major chain bookstores like Barnes and Noble or Boarders. Chain bookstores are like chain supermarkets. You go to supermarkets to buy the bulk of your groceries—eggs, milk, bread—while, like independent bookstores, farmers markets are where you go to buy in season fruits for a reasonable price.

But, there is a change in roles emerging in the publishing and bookstore world.

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After Boarders, the only other major bookstore comparable to Barnes and Noble, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011, Barnes and Noble became the only major bookstore in town. It was like if all the other fast food burger joints went out of business leaving only Burger King to provide their adoring fans with subpar fast food.

Being the only major bookstore standing should be like taking candy from a baby—which turns out to not be so easy. All of the residual customers from Boarders should have automatically carried over to Barnes and Noble. There is only one problem with that of course and it goes by Reader… E-reader.

Since the introduction of the Kindle, Amazon has had the e-world in the palm of their hand. Once Barnes and Noble got a whiff of the profit pie that Amazon was making by way of digital books, the Nook was born and stumbled on to the market in 2009. However, it is this very thing that could bring their foundation which is their bookstores tumbling down.

Here is the break down. Barnes and Noble provide publishers with a place to sell and market their books. When a customer walks in to a Barnes and Noble with the intentions to browse, they are literally tripping over tables and displays to ensure that they leave with something; even if it is a zombie survival guide. This aspect of the bookstore is very difficult to translate into digital form and would negatively impact publishers and authors.

Unlike Barnes and Noble, Amazon does not want to share the book industry with publishers; which is the other aspect that is causing the industry to sweat. Amazon wants to do away with the middle man and revolutionize the way we shop for books. The entire situation is a clusterbunk that has been predicted to end poorly for Barnes and Noble.

Publishers, authors, and booklovers have one last saving grace to keep book culture beating, bumping, and breathing.

I N D E P E N D E N T B O O K S T O R E S!

[enter angelic harps]

Independent bookstores provide publishers and authors a place to sell and display their products. Bookies will also have a home away from their own book cramped home. Symposia, a Hoboken independent bookstore that is drawing in the community while selling books at the same time, is taking part in this bookstore renaissance of sorts.

Symposia is the quintessential independently owned bookstore—chock-full of charm and exploding with literature. The store is owned by Carmen and Cornell Russo. They opened their doors in 2001 with seed money provided by a group of sponsors and Hoboken’s former mayor David Roberts.

Symposia, which was named by Carmen after the word Symposium which means a gathering of people, is more than just a place to paw through books. Symposia has a puppet show for children, yoga taught by Carmen, AND is a space for people of the Hoboken community to use to throw food tastings and other titillating events.

“Symposium is getting together… Our philosophy is to empower people. If someone wants to do something for the community than we help. We have a newsletter and make some flyers” says one of the owners Carmen Russo.

While this bookstore is amazing and should drive in enough profit to stay afloat on its own, Carmen says that much of their success is due to the financial help they receive from former Hoboken mayor David Roberts.

“A main factor in us being here is our sponsor which is the former mayor… He likes what we are doing. We were on a lateral street away from main street. The people that got in the store was like a fraction. And he gave us this big huge space. We owe him a lot”

Aside from Mr. Roberts, Symposia keep its doors open with their puppet business Puppetonia. The puppet show is a culmination of music, dancing, and puppets of course.

Carmen is not completely removed from the world of the interwebs. Symposia makes a good amount of their money via their internet market.

Symposia offers inexpensive, gently used books while supporting the community of Hoboken as well. Located on Washington Street, it is in the heart of it all, pumping the vital needs through the streets.

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There is no way to determine what is going to become of the book world in 20 years. There are endless possibilities, fears, and assumptions. The part that is absolutely certain is that the JK Rowlings of the world will continue to think up worlds as whimsical as Hogwarts. Writers will endure and soldier on to write works riddled with dry humor and gut churning sexuality that would make David Sedaris blush. The end of the major bookstores will be the end of a chapter in the culture of books. Independent bookstores will continue to provide a platform for the Junots, Chimamandas, and Shakespears.

Children’s author Dale E. Basye put it beautifully at the end of his book Precocia: The Sixth Circle of Heck:

“And no matter how books evolve, there will always be stories and—luckily—their obliging champions, taking us by the hand so that we may find our tale” -Latifah Miles

 

See other stories by Latifah Miles “50 Shades Meets Judy Blume”