So many of you already know that a few months ago, the only nationwide “chain” retailer of books located in Oakland, and the largest bookstore in our city limits, closed up shop. The Barnes & Noble at Jack London Square closed on January 31st due to declining sales… part of the company’s plan to close underperforming stores around the country.
This can be viewed in a number of ways… Certainly disappointing to many Jack London residents who no longer have this resource within walking distance, and disappointing from a financial perspective in that revenue is being taken away from our city. This store was a powerful magnet for shoppers in an area largely plagued by poor development.
But current plans are already underway to re-develop Jack London Square the way it should have been done from the get-go, and some view the closing as a real opportunity to bring other goods & services to the area that are more desperately needed. For example, despite large complexes of residential condos in the area, there is no local grocery store. (Jack London Square Growing Pains by Lisa Cartolano) There are rumors that Trader Joe’s, which has already expanded Oakland operations, adding two new stores on College and Lakeshore Avenues in the last year, may set up shop here too.
But I digress… what I want to talk about are the bookstores.
In an article discussing the closure of the Jack London Barnes & Noble, a local columnist asks:
“What does it say about a major metropolis with more than 400,000 residents when our only major bookstore pulls up stakes and leaves?
Oakland can’t support even one of the big two chain bookstores? No Barnes or Borders? What’s up with that?
Do we not read and buy books?
What if you want to buy a book that’s not in one of the independent bookstores and you don’t have the leisure of waiting for the item to arrive in the mail from Amazon? Maybe you wanted to pick up a last-minute birthday gift and get it wrapped on the fly. Now, you have to schlep to Emeryville and deal with the parking hassles.” (Drummond: Mourning the death of an old friend)
I disagree with her. Perhaps this store failed because it was in a poor location to begin with… Jack London has never been magnet for shopping the way that Bay Street has become… there simply were few other retailers there. Or perhaps Oakland residents prefer to shop locally, keeping their dollars not only in their city, but in their neighborhood no less. The shop down the street has more character & charm than the chain store, but can still turn your book order around in a day if they don’t have what you need in stock. You don’t have to go to Emeryville or turn to Amazon for fast service…
We are now a city of exclusively independent bookstores, and that’s a pretty incredible thing… Many wonderful quirky local bookstores remain in Oakland, continuing to survive despite the rise (and fall) of the Borders and Barnes & Nobles, and of course, the empire of Amazon.
In the next couple weeks I’ll be featuring many of our best indie-bookstores, and they’ve all got their own fascinating stories to tell… I hope you’ll stay tuned.