Oh isn’t it a good thing that after a day at work we get to come home. I love my home … it is so very peaceful yet enriching. I poured us sparkling water with lime juice and mint. We moved the chairs into the shade … even at 6pm, the sun was still high and strong. Mum read to us from an hysterical new book. Abby and Hannah looked through other new volumes on cheese making, bag making and Christmas stickers. The dogs (Lucy – Mum’s dog and Simon’s sister – is staying too) gnawed their bones. And I stitched. Remember last night when I said I had been just keeping up with the Advent tree ornaments. Today I ran out so there was stitching to do. What a pity huh! Lovely stitching in the evening garden with refreshing drinks, an outrageous book, and lots and lots of giggling.
It’s a good thing :-) Working in the bookstore has been very enlightening. Now, here we are, members of a thriving online community so what I’m about to say may seem a bit contradictory. But the last year has shown me that as a society, our increasing leaning towards living – and here I mean mostly shopping – “online” is having community altering repercussions. Businesses all around us are closing their doors. Small, local businesses who have supported multiple families for generations. Whilst there has been online shopping for over a decade now, it is only in the last 18 months that the effects are really hitting home. In our bookstore, we are confronted everyday with customers telling us cockily – and yes, I really mean cockily – that they don’t have to buy the book from us – a local family run bookstore, they can buy it from online, overseas bookstores for much less. Yep, they can. They don’t have to buy the book from us, they can buy it from the huge supermarkets for much less. Yep, that’s right. They seek our advice, let me spend half an hour reading to them from books, showing them a selection of titles, helping them chose books that are appropriate for the age and interests of their children, their grandchildren, their friends, their parents. And then they use their iphones to photograph our price sticker on the back that records the isbn, the title and the author, or write it down in their notebooks, thank us for our help and leave. Sometimes, they will even admit to us that they are buying it online or at the big supermarket. But most often this kind of customer will just slink off.
For a long time, I would just keep smiling and raise my eyebrows when confronted with these words and behaviour. No more. Now when they tell me that Kmart or Target have it for $4 less, I tell them that supermarkets make their money from cheap, industrialised food and sweat shop underwear and tshirts. They don’t need to make money on books. But they also don’t carry the specialised titles we have. And when we are put out of business, the supermarkets won’t change their modus operandi. They will continue selling the big blockbusters and everything else will be oh so much harder to find.
And when the customer buys a book written by an Australian writer and published by an Australian publisher from the UK or US for $40 less than we can buy it from the distributor (I’m not joking), yep they’re getting it cheaper. But now I tell them, when we close our doors, there will be no one to ring and say “I was listening to the radio last night and heard a really interesting chap interviewed about his new book” or come in and ask “My friend told me about this wonderful parenting book .. I think it’s red” Nor will there be part time jobs for their children and grandchildren whilst they’re at school or university. Or anywhere for them to sit in a cosy armchair, listening to lovely music whilst they browse our cookbooks and write out the recipes they want to cook that week. Or a warm and safe place for their children to lay after school, in the children’s section, finding Wally, or giggling over Ripley’s Believe It or Not or reading the beginning of the next book in the series before talking mum into buying it.
Nope. This increasing obsession with getting everything as cheaply as possible is not only bad for the environment and ultimately a false economy, but it’s becoming really nasty for so many of the families in our community. And it’s not just bookstores. It’s fabric and craft stores (the owner of a very popular local patchwork store was almost in tears the other day, sharing her morning of customers who treat her like a public library), homewares stores, baby wares stores, small clothing stores … and they’re just the ones around me who are closing their doors.
I have certainly bought my share of goodies online. And without a doubt, I know I will in the future. Sometimes there are books or artworks or fabrics or patterns that just cannot be bought locally. But I know that this year has taught me, that even though there is a HUGE lolly shop out there, just waiting for me to spend my dollars, I don’t always need to buy what I crave at that moment. And more importantly, I need to think about where I am placing my hard earned dollars. Living in a friendly community, where I can walk up the street or catch a tram to my local store, smile and greet the shopkeepers, chat with them about our days and needs, seek their advice, learn from them – provide them with a chance to make a living – is more important than saving $4 or $40.
There you go :-) I’m climbing down from my soapbox now. I don’t mean to hector, it’s just that some days, I wonder where this will all end. I know that economic wisdom declares that when one area of the “economy” disappears, another takes it place. But frankly, I don’t believe this to be true. And even more so, I don’t want to live in an economy. I want to live, with my family, in a community. What are your thoughts on this?
p.s. as for the customer who told me yesterday that I wouldn’t be able to sleep at 2 am in the morning because I would be frantically trying to think of the book title she was amazed I couldn’t conjure up on demand … I slept like a baby :-)
p.p.s I have never made any money from the Amazon booklist down the side of the blog. I keep it there so as to share pictures of the books we are reading and loving. If you know of a non-commercial way of doing this, please let me know :-)