Breathes there a reader in the Western world today who doesn't know that these are tough times for independent bookstores? And yet it will still surprise and grieve many to learn that Brentano's Paris is shutting its doors after 114 years at 37, Avenue Opéra.
"It is with sadness, and astonishment – despite the prolonged agony of these last months – that we inform you of the official closing of Brentano's Bookstore – Paris, Monday, June 15, 2009," wrote Susan Rosenberg and Alain Queval on the store's behalf. "We will miss our unique universe."
Shakespeare and Company, of course, still exists and brightens the Left Bank and that will comfort many. But if you have a favorite bookstore – anywhere – these days, don't take it for granted. In 1991, the American Booksellers Association listed 5,200 members. By 2005, that number was 1,702.
Last week I was on vacation in northern California and while in downtown Berkeley it pained me to see the empty space that for so many decades was Cody's Books. I did, however, enjoy a lengthy browse in Moe's Books, just down the block. And then I was heartened, while traveling further north, to find lively independent booksellers in Calistoga, St. Helena, Sonoma, Napa, and Sebastopol. (In fact, I left Copperfield's in Sebastopol with a bag of used books so heavy I finally gave up lugging and had to ship them home.)
But the closing of Brentano's should serve as a reminder to all of us: If you patronize your favorite bookstore only while on vacation, that may not be enough. Those of us who hope to keep the booksellers in business will have to be sure to include them in our lives all year long.