Sunday Book-Thought 86

This brief history is intended to show some of the ways in which so-called big-box bookstores emerge within, respond to, and partially transform the specific local and regional contexts – the senses of place – of which they are a part. It would be easy to read Barnes & Noble’s opening at New Hope Commons as symptomatic of the ‘malling’ of America and thus of the growing dominance of national chains. At some level it probably is. Yet the store’s presence there also needs to be recognized as an important engine of economic development for the city of Durham and, more specifically, as a strategy for redistributing the area’s wealth. It is but one facet of a much larger struggle to redress socioeconomic and racial disparities, whose origins extend back to well before the Civil War. Efforts to resist the building of the shopping center were equally complex. Protesters certainly responded to real concerns – especially environmental ones – about the mall’s location and construction. By the same token, the desire to resist the spread of national chains in the area, particularly among some Chapel Hill residents, could also be construed as an indirect way of preserving the area’s existing distribution of wealth and racial privilege. This isn’t to say that building more malls is the correct path to development, nor the best way to combat economic and racial inequality. The protests, however, do raise two interrelated questions: Why do certain communities have the privilege of not opening big-box bookstores? Under what historical conditions do communities choose to accept or reject those stores?
Ted Striphas, The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), p. 77.

Sunday Book-Thought 69

The most obvious epicenter of this shakeup [the digital network] is the information business. And it is particularly instructive to consider the fate of one of its most familiar architectural manifestations, the book shop. Where will we find twenty-first-century Pickwicks?
The problem with printed books, magazines, and newspapers – Gutenberg’s gotcha – is distribution. Paper documents can be mass produced rapidly at centralized locations, but they must then be warehoused, transported, stocked at retail outlets, and eventually hand carried to wherever they will be opened and read. There are built and specially equipped places for each of these activities: the publisher’s office, the printing plant, the warehouse, the bookstore, the newspaper kiosk, lounges and waiting rooms stocked with magazines, and the easy chair beside the fire. These places are distributed at appropriate locations within the urban fabric and play important roles in  differentiating that fabric and the activities unfolding within it. Harvard Square would not be the same without Out of Town News and its diverse collection of bookstores.
William J. MitchellCity of Bits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1995), pp. 49-50.