Don’t romanticize the loss of bookstores: rue the loss of tax dollars and jobs

One response to the closing of bookstores is to lament the loss of a place to browse for books and drink coffee. But another reason to rue the loss of these stores is the loss of tax dollars and jobs. Here is how this plays out in Wheaton:

The eventual closure of Borders books will have an impact on Wheaton in terms of lost sales tax revenue and jobs, said Jim Kozik, the director of planning for the city. And replacing a large retailer isn’t easy in times like these…

Locally he said Borders absence will mean a loss of jobs, a loss of tax revenue for the city and a loss of lease income for the management company that runs the shopping plaza at Butterfield and Naperville roads. But he said the amount of revenue the city will lose is hard to quantify because it is not spelled out by state government…

Kozik said the city has had discussions with Anderson’s Bookshop, an independent seller with locations in Downers Grove and Naperville. But ultimately the talks didn’t produce.

With liquidation plans announced for Borders books, Wheaton could face having two large vacant former bookstores – the other being a space in the Town Square shopping plaza formerly occupied by Barnes and Noble. That store closed a few years ago, said Kerry O’Brien of the Wheaton chamber of commerce.

It is little wonder that more states are looking to gather sales taxes off internet sales. The loss of bookstores has an economic impact that is perhaps more important than the cultural and social implications of the loss of a potential “third place.”

This story is also a little more intriguing because it is Wheaton, a community that is fairly educated and yet has lost two big chain bookstores. If they can’t survive in Wheaton, where else can they survive? (I wonder how the Barnes & Noble in downtown Naperville is viewed.) In general, the Chicago suburbs are lacking in independent bookstores, a type of business that might mark a more educated demographic.

The demise of Barnes & Noble

Bookseller Barnes & Noble (B&N) is in bad financial shape. According to a commentator in the Wall Street Journal, B&N fell prey to the Internet though they made some missteps on their own.

I, for one, will be sad if bookstores such as B&N and Borders go completely out of business. B&N came to the Chicago area in the 1990s and I shopped at some of the early locations. They were like a new world compared to the bookstores that existed then: relatively large, nice decor, with a varied selection. (I know some would argue this could be found at independent booksellers but I haven’t ever had much experience with these in my suburban life.) As both B&N and Borders expanded into music (a section I spent a lot of time in) and coffee, I found them even more likable locations. I still occasionally am very happy to spend an evening in one of these stores, browsing through magazines, music, and all sorts of books.

Shopping for these things on the Internet has some advantages, including the big factor of pricing. But browsing is still a qualitatively different experience than browsing a large bookstore.