AU can be quite a bubble. We’re relatively isolated in our pastel northwest corner of D.C., and if you never venture away from the manicured lawns and quaint facades, it would be easy to miss the signs of a wider economic slowdown. The credit crisis and the looming recession seem concerns fit only for the headlines in the morning paper. But without a doubt, things are changing in D.C.
Local businesses are suffering. Olsson’s Books, one of the District’s best known independently owned chain stores, has been forced to close its doors after more than 30 years in business. Likewise, Capitol Hill Books, a favorite used bookstore near Eastern Market, is seeing its profit margins squeezed between declining demand and skyrocketing property taxes.
As the economy contracts and people tighten their belts, these stores are having a hard time turning any sort of profit. Meanwhile, the corporate bookstores are doing fine. And while we have nothing against these large bookstores that make huge numbers of books accessible, they can never replace the eclectic range of books found in independent stores.
The loss of these local treasures is pretty sad. These small businesses might not be the most efficient, but they have a character and charm that corporate moneymakers can never replicate. There’s something satisfying about walking into a bookstore full of old, dusty and charming books - books with character - where you know the owner and can trust him for an amazing and off-beat recommendation.
This is not to say that the Barnes and Nobles of the world are evil and should be put out of business or boycotted for competing so well on the national and global level. Their success is a natural progression of the free market system - a progression that has made it extremely easy and relatively cheap to buy a wide assortment of books on any given topic. Still, it is important that the United States keep some of its small-town and small-business culture and charm.
A community needs to find a balance between supporting large stores full of cheap books and the older stores filled with every conceivable book at every conceivable price. In many small communities, the people will rally to save a struggling business during hard times, helping one of their own neighbors and the whole community in the process.
If AU students value an enormous and eclectic collection of books only a Metro ride away, then we should be sure to make a few extra trips to the store and buy a few extra books to help it along through these tough times. Every time the economy flounders a few more mom and pop stores go out of business - when the economy flourishes, a few more Starbucks will open. If you want local products, whether it be food or books, buy local. Tell your friends how you feel and have them do the same. It’s our social and cultural responsibility to do so.