Until the mid-1960s, as I recall from growing up, there only were two bookstores in Kokomo. One was on the town square. The place was closed-in, shelves floor-to-ceiling, with the feel of a book shoppe in a 1930s movie about London. I only went into the place once or twice. As was frequently the case, the old man had a grudge against the owner or one of the counter people for a slight, real or imagined, from long before. Only after I had graduated from college and stopped there on a whim did I appreciate how limited the selection was, given the size of the store. The other bookstore was a used bookstore on the north side. The air was musty from the piles of books, mostly paperback, that lay there.
As a kid I read a great deal, but because of the paucity of places from which to buy, mostly I ordered books from the company that sent out, to schools, monthly lists of paperbacks that were age-appropriate. There was no elementary library, as I recall, through my fifth grade. I stumbled across the Tarzan series at the Metro Mart, a Target-type store of short duration on the by-pass, when I was in fourth grade. I also found a Tom Swift book there. Most of the rest of my early reading, though, was of comic books, because of their availability.
The 1965 Palm Sunday Tornadoes blew through in April and wiped out two of the elementary schools in our district. The district used the opportunity to consolidate all of the elementary schools into one building. During the process of construction, we attended school half-days for the remainder of fourth and all of fifth grades. I was lucky to draw the first half. We started extra-early, but got home by a little after noon.
Around 1966 Readmore Book World opened, just off downtown. A local businessman purchased a former car dealership building and installed aisles of modern, metal shelves. The place blew me away. I was 11 and went nuts every week. I could pick up a book and flip through it. A lot of times there was little in it of interest to me. Other times, things would catch my eye; not sufficiently to cause me to buy the book, but to impart some sliver of fact or knowledge. About the same time, our new elementary school opened with its equally-new library. Between the store and the library, I was able to read Greek mythology, histories of wars, biographies of people about whom I only had heard (and of some of whom I never had heard), and novels—as in real novels, not age-appropriate crap.
It’s difficult to find bookstores now. When I moved to Broad Ripple in 1987, there were: a used bookstores, a Waldenbooks on Broad Ripple Avenue, and a B. Dalton at Glendale that covered two floors. I took those stores for granted. The big box bookstores sucked the small places into the vacuum of the marketplace. Of course, Borders recently folded. Barnes & Noble still is rumbling along. Because the vacuum of the Internet and Amazon dot com and other such corporations have moved in to sell things at much lower prices. Amazon does not have to worry about the overhead of stores and counter employees. Hell, Amazon dodges sales taxes in a lot of places. The books there are cheaper, maybe, but one cannot pick up and examine a book one might consider as a purchase. Gone is the pleasure of wandering through the books on the shelves and exploring. And sure, there are books on racks at grocery stores, but they largely are best-sellers, or recently-published works by people like Tom Clancy or James Patterson or Clive Cussler or—wait. That’s right. Those guys have marketed their names out as brands. Some of "their" books are written by others. The publishers cannot gamble on new writers anymore. The costs are too great.
Our governments are cutting budgets. Libraries are being cut. Indianapolis has made a good effort in its facility at what once was the Glendale Mall.
E-books are becoming more widespread, but somehow I cannot feel the same about sitting under a tree, eating an apple, and reading an e-book.
Today, Big Hat Books is the only bookstore in Broad Ripple. Big Hat is locally owned. The selection is not as large as one of the monoliths that sucked up all the other stores. But you still can pick up and flip through pages. You can look at books you otherwise might never have considered reading. You can be exposed to topics you might never have considered.
Big Hat is where we shoot "Civil Discourse Now." If you like books and believe, as did the fictional founder of Faber College in Animal House that "knowledge is good," visit. The store is at 6510 Cornell Avenue. This blog was not meant as a plug for the store, although perhaps it has ended as that. It started because, as I surfed through the internet reading about the news this morning, I remembered what it once was like to kind of do the same back there at Readmore.