It was the late 1980s, before Starbucks, and before Borders and Barnes and Noble. A girlfriend and I spent quite a bit of time in Capitola and I became acquainted with the Capitola Book Cafe. I was enthralled. A bookstore that served coffee drinks and pastries? I’d never seen a place like that!
Shelves and shelves crammed full of books of all kinds, beautifully displayed. I loved to browse, then sit and chat over lattes. Assuming we could find a seat, because that place got busy. I loved it.
How could I own such a place? I wondered. It seemed like a sure-thing. There were lots of people like me who loved books and coffee. In my fantasies, I opened a store just like it and it was a big success.
At the time, brick and mortar bookstores were the only kind, really. Oh, there were book catalogs we could get in the mail and then order those books. But if we wanted a book we went to a bookstore. We looked through the stacks, got attracted to intriguing covers, turned pages and make our choices. Simple as that. That’s the way it was done.
At the time, something like Amazon was inconceivable.
I don’t get to Capitola much, anymore. After all, 25 years have passed, my life is different, busier. But last fall, we took a little drive and I suggested we drop in at the the Book Cafe and look around. Here’s what the shelves looked like:
Look, the truth is that I’m a big Amazon customer. I read a LOT and buy a lot of books, both print and electronic. Amazon’s pricing is seductive, especially if you’re a “power reader.” When I browse the stacks in independents, I always buy a book or two, but nowhere near the number I buy online. Emotionally, I’d love to. Financially? It makes no sense. As upset as I get over the shuttering of traditional bookstores, the brutal truth is that I’m as responsible as anyone else for their demise.
Struggling to stay afloat in a business increasingly hostile to old-school bookstores, the store’s owners enlisted the community’s support several years ago, and support they got. Still, it wasn’t enough. We’d heard the bookstore would be closing in 2014 and we stood in the store looking at visible proof that it would. I tried to explain to M, exactly what this bookstore had been back in the day and for old time’s sake, we had a coffee. I bought a couple of books and cards.
Today, Capitola Book Cafe closes its doors for the last time and when it does, a chapter in my California life also closes for good. Maybe that’s just the way things are supposed to be–the old gives way to the new in a constant evolution. Still, I can’t help but be sad and a little teary in a way I can’t imagine people of the future being if Amazon ever shut down.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it would be entirely the same.
It’s strange to look back over 60 years and see in retrospect all the changes that we Baby Boomers have lived though. Some of them have given way to (now) indispensable technology.
But not everything new and modern is an improvement.
I hope I don’t see the disappearance of every bookstore in my lifetime. Then again, I’m not willing to change my book-buying habits, either. It’s an impasse, a game of chicken. We know who lost.
Or do we?