Sunday, September 27, 2009

Out of business

THE TIMES ARE NOT good. The nice Greengrocer in the nearby town of Windsor is closing at the end of the month. It was too good to make it, I suppose, in this bedroom community of nearly 30,000 souls, few of whom probably cared enough about what they were eating. The Greengrocer was a locavore's shop: wine, meats, dairy, and produce all came from within 150 miles. It was the only place in Windsor where we could buy local organic milk. We'll still get it, but we'll have to go to Healdsburg, two or three miles farther away. And I don't know where we'll be able to get dependable meat, except at the farm market.

Even worse in a way, Sawyer's News Agency in Santa Rosa is closing. When I was in the sixth grade and spent an occasional day in town, riding in with Dad but spending the day not at his sheet-metal shop but strolling the streets and parks, Sawyer's was one of the first places I'd enter. There I'd gawk at forbidden comic books and mysterious paperbacks and maybe, if I had a quarter, pick up a copy of Model Railroading.

A few years later I was buying New World Writing and Discover and novels by William Faulkner and pop-science books by George Gamow. Sawyer's was, quite literally, my first bookstore. It was so good, and so early, that when I got to Berkeley and saw the openings of Moe's Books and then Cody's Books, neither was much of a surprise to me.

Sawyer's is closing, I read in the local paper, for the same reason that Cody's did: the double whammy of high rent and competition from big-box stores and the Internet. Here's what we need: town and city governments must provide legislation for low-income retail space, analogous to low-income housing. Our civil system depends on an informed citizenry, just as our economy requires frugality; and neither newsstands nor shoe-repair shops can survive landlords concerned only for short-term bottom lines.

And if you think you can console yourself with a decent drink, don't get too complacent about that either: the popular Upper Fourth bar, near Sawyer's, is another recent shut-down. This story seems a little more complicated, though, to judge by some hilarious but also sad and pathetic accounts here. Ah, Internet, how cruel you can be at times.


Giovanna said...

So sad. You have my sympathy--I hate losing these places.

If we tilt our heads slightly, and think about the cost being for a book AND keeping a place we want to visit in our midst (and all that implies), the big-box 'discount' starts to seem more like a surcharge we can't afford.

Curtis Faville said...

As a bookseller, I have the same dilemma.

When I retired from my first career in civil service in 2001 (5 years late, it turned out, because of a health coverage snafu), I determined to be a used (rare) book seller; but just as I was making that decision, the internet blossomed, killing the open shop model. Now we sell 99% of everything to distant buyers around the world, for higher prices than we'd ever have gotten "at home" but we don't know any of our customers, and we serve no local good. And we lust after higher and higher priced stock, since this is where the interest is--everyone can find the common book in abundance, making it virtually valueless. And the internet has made every Tom, Dick and Harry an instant "bookseller" complete with first edition guides and computer inventories.

As a young high school student in the early 1960's, I made the pilgrimage to Cody's, and bought my first copies of Camus, Kafka, Bergson, Cummings, Eliot. Where would I find them today? Cody's and Barnes & Noble are gone, as are 90% of all the other bookshops, both new or used. But do today's kids care? --apparently not, as they traipse about with their laptops under their arms, and "set up" in Starbucks or the local coffee shop. At least coffee can't be "transmitted" over the WIFI.

We still have Monterey Market, and Berkeley Bowl. And for the more enterprising, there are still farms and ranches within an hour or two of home.

I studiously avoid shopping centers, big-box retailers and goods manufactured in China. (WalMart, is, after all, just an outlet for Chinese goods.)

Just another reminder of how powerless we've been made by the consolidation of capital and the means of production.

John Whiting said...

Charles I was about to ask you how Sonoma County was getting on in the light of what's happening to the rest of California. You've given me a hint.