A death in the family
Sometime around the middle of October, my friends Jeff and Jennifer, who own Sonoma Bookends, will close their doors for the last time.
I understand why they're doing it. Just about everyone in retail weighs that option on a regular basis. In the end though, most of us shrug and go back to work, we soldier on, not because it's making us much money; it's really more because we care so dearly about what we do.
If you were just looking at numbers, you might say that that's the definition of insanity, and nobody would argue with you. Still, the notion of them being gone and Readers' being the last bookstore in town feels bad, like a death in the family.
When I spoke with him the other day, Jeff pointed out that, at the moment, Nashville, Tenn., a city far larger than Sonoma, has no bookstore. Zero. Nada.
This will be remedied soon, by the author Ann Patchett, who lives there and plans to open one. That's nice. Ann Patchett is a wonderful writer, and God knows she has more than enough money to float something like that. But the larger point is that tiny Sonoma has somehow sustained two bookstores over the course of 20 years, and it may well be that people don't realize what a streak of luck this has been.
I run a bookstore, which is a delicate balancing act. But the real questions I keep coming back to are much deeper than economics. What do we value? What kind of world do we want our children to live in? Does it mean anything that we call ourselves a community? For myself, I simply wouldn't live in a town that did not support a decent bookstore, a forum for writers and new ideas. I wouldn't live in a town that didn't have a fine theater like the Sebastiani, where kids are encouraged to get up on stage and express themselves. Or a pub like Murphy's, that brings in local musicians.
Jeff said he hopes we get a bounce out of this, that some of his customers will no doubt drift over to us. Maybe so. Jeff's not insane; he's chosen - probably after many sleepless nights - to move on. But in my heart I would much rather see him stay. It's not about the money. It's about each other.
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Andy Weinberger is owner of Readers' Books in Sonoma.