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Turning the Page on “Big Book”

Let’s face it: independent bookstores will never be able to compete with Amazon’s New World Order, but the good news is they don’t have to.

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Cindy Dumas, owner of Marissa’s Books. Photo by Lewi Lewis

In the early naughts, myriad wealth reports predicted the eventual extinction of the independent bookshop—Amazon, by this time, had become an ever-present goliath; Barnes & Nobles had hundred of stores, and more were popping up everywhere, seemingly every week. On the surface, the dire prediction made sense; the way things go in our world, it was inevitable. And it stirred up fear like a thick dust in the minds and lives of avid readers everywhere—thankfully, this prognostication turned out to be an inaccurate, misguided one.

With the taste of the recession still sourly coating everyone’s mouth, the beginning of this decade witnessed the independent bookstore model not only rise steadily back to its former position in communities across the nation, but they began thriving, even under the immensity of Amazon’s ubiquitous shadow like never before.

In 2011, Cindy Dumas came into a literal mountain of books—around 40,000. She had no plans of starting a bookstore, but the best, most successful ideas are usually born outside the strictures of “plans.”

“I didn’t understand the value of coming into that many books,” Cindy said. “It’s a business that came about simply out of the necessity of getting rid of so many books.”

Marissa’s Books & Gifts, in Murray, was born shortly thereafter, when she realized the effect actual books have on the individual and the community at large.

There have been a lot of theories regarding why the independent bookshop refuses to die. But I think it is reducible to this: life rarely engages us at a depth beyond the screen anymore. Our usual assumptions, the things we suppose and presume and take for granted has stirred the beast. We are waking up again, hungry for something more, something we had but lost along the way—something real in lieu of the abstraction of our technological lives. And the independent bookstore, every single one of them, operates in a way that is impossible for a business such as Amazon to mimic.

“We actually listen to our customers,” Cindy said. “We give them what they want.”

In essence, these curators of knowledge, holders of untold and forgotten secrets, bastions of the community of which they are part, are succeeding because the have allowed the customer to shape the business itself, perhaps unconsciously self-filling an ever-widening hole of nostalgia, taking us out of the shallow habit of seeing and back into an experiential existence.§

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