Monday, February 10, 2014

Another One Bites the Dust: the Slow Ebb of G.R. Bookstores

This morning a number of sources reported that the Schuler Books & Music on Alpine would be closing in the next several weeks. The lease on the property was up for a 10-year renewal at an increased rate, and the owners, Bill and Cecile Fehsenfeld, did not feel this location was profitable enough for a renewal not to be a financial risk. They closed the downtown Schuler Books last year for similar reasons, and this brings the chain's presence in West Michigan down from three locations to one.  

The Alpine location is problematic, not because of lack of traffic, but because it's very hard to navigate that area of Alpine, and you cannot easily drive from Schuler Books to Target because the light only allows for turns. It's often very congested as well. It's reasonably simply to go from Target to Hobby Lobby, but the snarl of traffic makes it difficult to visit Toys 'R' Us and then Bed Bath & Beyond, let alone Marshalls or Schuler Books, even though all of them are within a half mile of each other. Whoever designed the area would have been shot at sunrise by any self-respecting dictatorship regime - it's that bad. Because of this, while I've often shopped at Penzey's or gone to lunch at Panera Bread, I almost never go to Schuler Books - and I'm a book lover and librarian!

What's left for bookstore lovers in Grand Rapids from a brick-and-mortar standpoint? The Schuler Books on 28th remains, of course. And there's a Barnes and Noble at Woodland Mall. Pooh's Corner is in Breton Village Mall. If you like Christian fiction (or nonfiction, for that matter), there are a number of bookstores in Grand Rapids that may appeal - Baker Book House, Kregel Parable, Eerdman's, and Family Christian. There are also a few used bookstores scattered around the area in shopfronts: Reading Books in Rockford, Argos, Book Corral, Mystery House Book Shoppe, as well as a couple of comic book stores, some church-affiliated bookstores, and a few porn shops. If you're looking for a less expensive bookstore alternative, Bargain Books on 29th has a good selection, but, of course, it doesn't stock the newest titles.  And then there are the thrifts. I've found a lot of great books at various thrift stores around Grand Rapids, but that's always a serendipitous experience. You go, you browse, you may find something; it's not predictable.

For West Michigan genre readers outside inspirational fiction, Amazon is likely your go-to source because unless you're reading mainstream popular authors, titles will likely have to be special ordered anyway. The selection for science fiction, mystery, romance, or young adult is just not that extensive even in a well stocked chain store, and by the time you've spent gas driving to 28th Street, you could have paid for shipping to Grand Rapids. But there's nothing like spending a slow Saturday afternoon browsing shelves, looking through titles you never would have found except by browsing, and because of that, it's always sad to see another brick-and-moral bookstore close. The used selection at that Schuler's was organized and varied too. It's definitely a loss.