The Book Store Gap

By Patrick Appel

In 2001 Brooke Allen wrote in praise of the big-box book store:

Although there is some reality in the image of the chains as predators (ours is a capitalist economy, after all), it is not the whole truth or even, perhaps, the most important part. The emotional drive behind the anti-chain crusade is an understandable mistrust of big corporations allied with the knee-jerk snobbery that is never far from the surface in American cultural life. "I am a reader," the interior litany goes, "therefore I belong to a privileged minority; I patronize exclusive bookstores known only to me and my intellectual peers." With the chains, which target a wider public and make the process of book buying unthreatening to the relatively less educated, the exclusivity factor disappears.[...]

Wonderful though many of the independents were (and are)...the fact is that most of the good ones were clustered in the big cities, leaving a sad gap in America's smaller cities and suburbsthe places, in fact, where most of the American population actually lives. Books-A-Million's 202 stores, for instance, are almost all located in the Southeast. Borders has from the beginning targeted another underserved market, the suburbs, and as a result the quality of life in American suburbia has radically changed over the past decade. This is a point that the urban intelligentsia, which loves to characterize the suburbs as a cultural wasteland, seems to have missed, or at least to have taken no interest in.