Uncategorized | November 01, 2005

It’s not just here. Two weeks after Walter Bargen, a veteran of the literary scene here in Columbia, announced at a reading that Columbia Books would be closing its doors, comes news that one of the nation’s finest independent bookstores will be following suit.

Athena Bookshop, of Kalamazoo, Michigan, will be closing its doors Nov. 12. Athena has been a mainstay of downtown Kalamazoo since 1944, but as Susan Ramsey of Athena told the Kalamazoo Gazette, though there are a variety of reasons why Athena saw its business decline, ultimately “convenience killed us. The big-box stores skim off the best sellers, discount them below what we pay for them. Large chains also stock CDs and DVDs. And if something can’t be found, people can order anything online from home.”

It is ironic that Maud Newton, just a couple of weeks ago, had listed Athena alongside Miami’s Books & Books, New York’s Three Lives, and Portland’s Powell’s as bright spots of success in a bleak landscape of “old-fashioned” bookstores.

Discussions of the fate of the brick-and-mortar bookstore have been bandied about for several years now, but for authors–especially those without a bestseller–the collapse of stores like Athena does not bode well. To illustrate this from a personal standpoint, it was Athena who willingly handled the booksales when I returned to my small hometown 45 minutes south of Kalamazoo this summer, and it was Susan Ramsey who spent several hours of her 4th of July holiday on the lawn of the Colon Public Library so that this local kid could promote his book. It’s that sort of commitment to authors and readers that, for me, distinguishes stores such as Athena from the national chains and it’s just one more reason why they’ll be missed.