Where Have All the Bookstores Gone? by
(290 Stories)

Prompted By Children's Books

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No more Barnes and Noble

Several years ago, we took our grandkids to an actual, brick and mortar Barnes and Noble in a suburb of Indianapolis. It wasn’t conveniently located. The one in their town had closed, so we drove some distance to reach the bookstore. But it was worth it. They had a blast. You would think we had taken then to a water park.

Bring your children to experience wandering among shelves of actual books before it is too late. And don’t forget to visit and support your local library.

Sadly, the closest thing they have in their town to a real live bookstore is the children’s book section at Target – two aisles of books, mostly related to Disney movies and commercial characters. And their town library is small, with a limited selection of chapter books. Not too many people use it and its financial resources are scarce.

There are many places in our country where children live in what we call food deserts, lacking access to stores that sell fresh, healthy foods to nourish their growing bodies. I guess you could say that many children live in book deserts, having limited access to books to nourish their developing minds.

Of course, my grandchildren are blessed to be able to obtain books online. And it’s not that they lack books in their home. I always bring them new ones when I visit, and they order the ones they know they want (like the new Land of Stories) on Amazon. But actually seeing so many choices was a big deal. And taking the time to explore, touch, sample, and select was really fun and enlightening for all of us.

Here’s what we learned on our trip to an actual bookstore: It’s OK to skip the toys near the front of the store. The children’s book section at the back is way more fun. And you can’t judge a book by its cover, which is a downfall of buying online. When they had the time to look inside (not virtually) and handle the books, they discovered that a silver, glittery cover could be hiding a boring book. Plus, the seven-year-old admitted that his little brother’s picture books were pretty cool because the beautiful illustrations were “kind of like art.”

The bookstore adventure made me wax nostalgic about their mother’s childhood when there were many bookstores, even ones devoted solely to children’s books. In fact, a friend and I dreamed of starting a children’s bookstore in our neighborhood. But that was also the era of large chain stores like Borders Books and Barnes and Noble opening in every community, driving the unique and independent smaller stores out of business. How ironic that the Internet and e-books have killed Borders and seriously disabled the Barnes and Noble stores.

As we were leaving with our purchases, my granddaughter looked around and noticed we were the only customers. She wondered if this store would also close soon. “We need to tell more people to come to real bookstores,” she proclaimed. “I want to be able to come here again.”

Sadly, the Barnes and Noble near me closed just before the pandemic. We do still have a great public library, but I’m sure COVID made it much more challenging to take children there. A delightful children’s bookstore called Booked opened in my town a few years ago, and seems to be surviving the pandemic and extensive street work making it challenging to park nearby. I’m delighted that someone fulfilled my dream from so many years ago and opened this wonderful store. It has a small door within a conventional one for little folks to enter. It also has a very knowledgeable staff and all of my grandkids have found books they liked when we visited before the pandemic. What a treat. I hope this local treasure succeeds.

Once it feels safe to do so, I am hoping more people come to the few brick and mortar bookstores that are left. Bring your children to experience wandering among shelves of actual books before it is too late. And don’t forget to visit and support your local library.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real, join my Facebook community, and visit my website.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: been there, moving, right on!, well written


  1. Love this story, Laurie! Let’s give everyone on our holiday gift list books and shop for them in person. My daughter just sent me a text saying we need to shop early because of all the shipping problems, but I’m pretty sure the Barnes & Noble nearby is well stocked. Your story made me decide to go check. Of course that means waiting in line to pay…which brings us back to why buying online is just so convenient, and no germs to worry about. It really is a Catch-22.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Yes, COVID has made this complicated. Even if we could find a real brick and mortar bookstore, we have to navigate being around other people. And for me, to ship things out of town means going to a post office (which could also use my business, although the jerk still in charge is jacking up prices for the holidays). I hate that I have to resort yo Amazon, but it’s just safer and easier these days.

  2. Marian says:

    I have to admit I’ve been getting books through Amazon during the pandemic, Laurie, but I do love bookstores. There is a famous bookstore in the Bay Area called Kepler’s, which is now run as a nonprofit. It is a “destination” for me in that it’s not conveniently located. There is a lovely children’s bookstore closer, but I don’t know if it’s survived the pandemic. You are to be congratulated for giving your grandkids a hands-on experience.

  3. Amen Laurie!
    Bookstores and libraries are vital – especially during a pandemic – may they be supported and survive!

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Our lovely bookstore in Newton Centre only accepted some sort of bulk orders during the pandemic. It isn’t shuttered and will reopen, but it isn’t taking small orders at the moment. We still have two bookstores on the Vineyard, but they are greatly reduced from what they once were. Still it is SO nice to wander in, get real service and be able to browse. The predecessor to the one in Edgartown was just around the corner from me and stocking the shelves was David’s first job (at the age of 14, during a Harry Potter-release summer). The owners were so nice to him and smart business women. When we first bought our house, almost 25 years ago, going into the children’s corner was a great rainy day activity (just as you say in your essay).

    One day, one of the owners mentioned to me that I could open an account for the kids – give them some independence. How would I monitor their spending, I inquired? She would set a limit; $20/child. That seemed reasonable and I did that. They both had a blast with that, scooping up Calvin and Hobbs books and all sorts of other books. A favorite memory was one quiet evening after dinner, I couldn’t find them. I looked everywhere (Dan was still working, so it was just the three of us in the house. Finally, I realized that the door to Jeffrey’s bedroom was closed. I peeked in: the two of them had pooled their spending limits and bought a coffee table book when the movie “Chicken Run” came out. They both LOVED it and this book told its story. They were huddled together, reading it and wanted the cat to stay in the room too, hence the closed door. Genius!

  5. It’s wonderful that you were able to take your grandchildren to a real bookstore so they could see books living together in their natural habitat (rather than showing up one at a time in the mail). My kids and I enjoyed going to the local Borders when they were much younger, but now that beautiful building is an immediate care clinic. The independent bookstore in my city has somehow managed to survive, even through the pandemic, and it’s wonderful to be able to go into a store and get recommendations from an actual human being, rather than relying on online reviews. Thank you for an interesting and informative story!

  6. Suzy says:

    Great story, Laurie. I remember boycotting Borders when they first came to Sacramento because they were undercutting the local bookstores. Then, as you say, Amazon and e-books killed Borders. I haven’t bought any books in years, I get all my books from the library. But I do remember how great it was to take my kids to a bookstore and have them get lost in browsing all the fascinating titles on the shelves. I do think independent bookstores have made a bit of a comeback, notwithstanding covid.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      You are right about independent bookstores having a chance to make a comeback, especially after Covid. Ironic that they killed those wonderful, small bookstores and now Barnes and Noble really hurt its brick and mortar operation with its e-books. And yes, our library is still standing, but with reduced hours and services due to the pandemic.

  7. Dave Ventre says:

    On-line one can find very obscure works, but some of my best hours have been spent wandering the usually narrow aisles of used bookstores and coming across interesting things that I had never realized until then were interesting.

  8. Of course as a book lover and librarian I also decry the loss of many indie bookstores, but I don’t demonize B&N , I’ve spent hours in B&N cafes with a hot drink and a stack of books to flip through.

    And B&N’s children’s section is a
    great place to find holiday gifts for kids – books and often stuffed versions of the books’ characters.

    Of course since Covid I confess to buying books on Amazon!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I agree, Dana. I love to select books for holiday gifts for the many young kids in my family. B&N also had a great selection of non-junky toys and puzzles. And their cafe was a great place to meet friends. But alas, they closed the one near me. Then the pandemic hit. So, like you, I use Amazon, especially for out of state gifts because of free shipping.

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