Merry Christmas, and that means we're already thinking of what we're going to do when we take down the displays...most things will stay up through January 1st, and I'll beg to keep the snowflakes up as long as I can. It's still winter, isn't it? Several of you have commented to me on our holiday window, filled with Christmas shopping bags from old department stores. It really hit a nerve with some people, which was my intent.
My department store obsession is a convergence of two great loves--retail and cities. The retail one should be obvious to you, and if it isn't, you have to come to the store to see my display of bandage tins from various retailers.
But cities? I hardly get to travel of late, but folks who've known me a long time are aware that the highlight of my year would be making my first pilgrimage to Baltimore, Omaha, or Albuquerque, chasing down old newspapers in the public library, and using that information to visit tour the old stores, hotels, and other buildings of note, some still there, and some gone. I love regionalism--you can one day ask me about my food tour of Louisville, which has a lot of distinctive dishes. Sadly, you can no longer experience some of them at the amazing basement cafeteria that I visited some ten years ago.
For many years, I read widely on urban planning, and considered leaving Schwartz to get a degree in the subject. In the end, I decided I liked what I was doing and where I was doing it too much to change. And for every one of my friends who found the perfect job, another wound up crunching numbers, in the middle of political battles, or simply with a bad boss (the number one reason why people quit).
One of the books I was particularly fond of over the years is Ray Oldenburg's The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. I'm not the only fan--the book is now in its third edition and has found its place in course adoption. Oldenburg explores the idea of third places (meaning neither home nor work), where people can get together informally and create community.
Bookstores have played this up for a long time. There are even two bookstores in the Seattle area called Third Place Books. Here's the blog for the Lake Forest Park location, currently featuring their top 30 books of the year. It's a great list and I suggest you look it over. Too lazy? Here are the top five adult fiction and nonfiction:
Top Fiction from Third Place in Lake Forest Park, Washington
1. Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes
2. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin
3. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larsson
4. C, by Tom McCarthy
5. Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray
1. The Tiger, by John Vaillant
2. Were You Born on the Wrong Continent, by Thomas Geoghegan
3. At Home, by Bill Bryson
4. The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr
5. The Emperor of All Maladies, by Siddhartha Mukherjee
So does this have any connection to Christmas? Sort of. As I think about our holiday season, one of the nicest things I noticed about the store was how often people seemed to run into friends and acquaintances. I would be working and hear this cry of surprise and delight, and there would be two people who hadn't seen each other in weeks (or sometimes years), coming together for an impromptu chat.
I love when I'm talking to a customer, and then see another customer who I think might have something in common. Introductions are made, and sometimes there's a connection. Our events, and particularly our in-store book clubs, help make community too, and it doesn't hurt to be next to a coffee shop, which though still a chain, seems to be a neighborhood gathering place.
And hey, I didn't even have to go to graduate school.
Thank you again for all your support over the last year. We're happy to say we had a good holiday season, and we couldn't have done it without you. It's nice to know that a bookstore can be a little more than a bookstore, and if by your support, you reconnected with an old friend or made a new one, so much the better.
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