Today I said goodbye to an old friend:
At the end of today, what was once one of the largest independent book stores east of the Mississippi River, will be closing its doors. I decided to stop in with the girls one last time to peruse and maybe make one last purchase. Pulling into the parking lot, the spaces in front of the book store were filled and you could see the bustling through the windows inside.
With the girls, I entered the doors into the familiar vestibule. As suspected, the store was a flurry of action and people were everywhere. Very few times had I seen CCBC (our nickname for the store) this frenzied (possibly only to be rivaled by the few Harry Potter book release celebrations from years ago).
I took in the scene and my heart became heavy: Tables nestled in corners, host to random and various clearanced items; shelves, previously home to multitudes of books lay barren and cold. The faces of employees I've gotten to know so well over the years were serious and focused on final sales.
And a lump formed in my throat. Chica, Bug and I weaved through the half-emptied shelves, bumping into person after person poring over the scattered offerings of a dying business. They picked over the remaining carcasses of books like vultures. After watching more people turn discounted items over in the hands, tossing them aside after learning the price, an anger rose in my heart and I wanted to shout,
"Where were you for the past year!?
Why are you here now, overflowing this building, on its last day?
Why was this book store not good enough for you before?"
But I knew the answer.
I knew the vultures were here because of deals, discounts and savings. They were looking for the best steal, treasures for a dime a dozen. And it made me sad. Because they weren't appreciating the story of where they were bargain shopping. This store was not a built-in-a-day chain with flashy commercials and a big name. This store has a history, and that history has been a growing part of my life.
The people sifting through coupon-priced books today weren't reminiscing over the early years of the Book Company, when it was only one store front and across the parking lot from a Photo Hut. They weren't picturing the 2 cockatoos sitting in the large cage by the cash register, which were the thrill of every child that entered the store.
The Magnolia Grill was a local staple, perfect for meals or just a cup of coffee. No one could turn down their Chicken Pecan Salad (although through trial and error, I've come up with a reasonable copy cat recipe). And let's be honest: the Brabant Potatoes were hard to beat.
For me, though, the Chester County Book and Music Company holds a myriad of memories. I was the kid who spent what seemed like forever trying to make those cockatoos repeat my words. I was the teenager who drooled over the newest CD's with my friends. I was the 20-something visiting her new boyfriend-turned finance-turned husband during his breaks from working the CCBC registers. During the years he worked at the Book Company, Hubby learned a vast knowledge of books and made lasting friendships. Most recently, I was the young mom chasing her kids up and down the steps of the Reading Well while we made decisions over what books to bring home with us.
So today, as I looked over the remaining shelves, trying to imagine the expanse filled with fitness machines of the future commercial gym chain that would be taking over the space, I got choked up. Because I couldn't see anything but my memories. I couldn't think of anything beyond the store's history. And I was sad for those patrons that had no idea that they were apart of a greater story.
May we become a society that values better things than BIGGER, CHEAPER, MASS PRODUCED and ONLINE. A place where businesses aren't just a means for a consumer to purchase a product. May our future become more personal and local, where storeowners are friends, shopping is an experience and everybody knows your name.
Today, I mourn the loss of a local legend.
Today is the end of an era.
May there be more chapters to come.
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