Wednesday, May 10, 2006

When I was your age we had these places called "independent book stores" ...

Last week San Francisco landmark "A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books" went up for sale, with one long-term partner wanting out completely and the other unable to raise the capital to buy out the partner due to years of declining sales. Last month Neal Sofman, the still-active partner, sold their domain name for "an undisclosed sum."

Sofman, who first opened Well-Lighted in Cupertino in 1975, is not out of the book business entirely. He'll be opening a new (smaller) store called Bookstore West Portal in the next month. Meanwhile, there are still book signings and other events scheduled nearly every day of the week at Well-Lighted even as he searches for a buyer.

Today, Berkeley landmark Cody's Books announced that they'll be closing their flagship store after 43 years on Telegraph Avenue. Declining sales and competition from the big chains an online retailers was again cited as the cause. Their two smaller stores will remain open, but the massive main store - a great resource for book lovers and researchers alike - will be gone after July 10.

What's wrong when even UC Berkeley students can't sustain a store like Cody's? Cody's was not simply a store, but an active part of the Berkeley campus community. In 1968, when anti-war protesters were teargassed and clubbed out on the street, Cody's became their first-aid station. Their "finest hour," however, came twenty-one years later.

During the 1989 controversy over Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses," Cody's would not bow to pressure to remove the book from it's store -- despite having been firebombed over it. (For those too young to remember, some Muslims felt the book insulted the Prophet and called for the faithful to find and kill Rushdie.)

Cody's was rewarded with a rare public appearance by Salman Rushdie, with a five-minute warning to set up a signing for the author who was still in hiding at the time. The firebomb had left a hole in the information desk over which somebody had written "Salman Rushdie memorial hole." Rushdie saw this and said, "Some people get statues, others get holes."

It's hard to imagine telling stories like these about a Borders, B&N, or That leaves quite a mighty hole too.

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