A real-life "You've Got Mail" story: No Christmas miracle for Laredo's last bookstore

When B. Dalton's closes, Laredo, Tex., will be the largest city in the US with no bookstore.

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If it were a movie, the ending to this story would have been quite different. What ought to have happened was that the letters of schoolchildren and the hopes of humble townsfolk would have made a difference, and – somehow – in a last-minute Christmas miracle, somebody would have found a way to save the last bookstore in Laredo, Tex.

But, come to think of it, this was a movie. In "You've Got Mail," Meg Ryan and a cluster of her loyal customers struggled to keep her tiny children's bookstore afloat in the face of giant Fox Books. Yet they too lost out, watching the store spin out its last lonely hours just as the rest of their city was filling with holiday cheer.

And now, unfortunately, in Laredo life is imitating art. Despite a "Laredo Reads" campaign by customers, a resolution by the city council, and a letter-writing blitz by a local 4th-grade class, the city's 30-year-old B. Dalton bookstore will close next month, making Laredo (pop. 250,000) the largest US city with no bookstore. (The nearest substitute will be in San Antonio, 150 miles away.)

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It's not just Laredo losing its B. Dalton. Corporate parent Barnes & Noble is shuttering all B. Daltons nationwide.

But in Laredo, the store is particularly well-loved. Although the city's demographics (low average income, low literacy levels) might suggest otherwise, Laredo easily has enough enthusiastic readers to support a bookstore.

The store turns a profit, acknowledged David Deason, a vice president at Barnes & Noble who handles real estate, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. But Barnes & Noble is now focused on what they call "large-format bookstores," which sell music, videos, toys, and croissants as well as books. B. Dalton is a more modest concept from another era.

All is not lost in Laredo. Barnes & Noble is said to be looking at a site in the city for a bigger store, possibly to open in 2011. And the city is reported to be planning two new library branches to help fill the void.

But in the meantime, readers in Laredo are bidding a sad farewell to the store that has served them for three decades. And just as in real life, they are finding that the holidays are a particularly hard time to lose a dear friend.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/MarjorieKehe

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