Time, Money, Books

Two Saturdays ago I stopped by Capitol Hill Books for a beer tasting and general camaraderie with the Bookstore Movers staff and the public. It’s often good for a man of my, well, “headiness”, to get out of the house every once in a while, and there’s only so much writing and music-making a man can do before he slips into the abyss of his soul. A little company, a little literature, and most importantly, a little libation can do the writer’s soul well. So, I decided to join the literati of the city at the premier beer-tasting event of that particular Saturday. While I was there, sipping on a deliciously potent brew – an eerie chocolaty and hoppy concoction – and perusing the local book selection, I overheard a few different conversations about the same thing: bookstores. Most people were talking about how unique Capitol Hill was. Referencing its selection, the sort of no-nonsense but extremely playful attitude of the staff, the seemingly endless supply of books on the second floor, and the laid-back atmosphere of the store itself. All of these things were said with a smile, and by regulars who threw around the names of people I have yet to meet. These conversations were airy and light, but they always led to a particular point; the difference between independent bookstores and big chain ones. Most of the time it starts when they see the bottle of tequila in an unused sink in the poetry room. “You won’t see that at a Barnes and Nobles!” someone will say with mock seriousness, then immediately laugh afterwards, thanking the gods of writing that places like Capitol Hill still exist. But, what they often don’t say is that one won’t find many Barnes and Nobles anymore. Indeed, one will mostly find giant empty warehouses with large B&N logos on the windows in lieu of customers, books, and culture. The bookstore culture is dying, has been dying, and will continue to die if the trends don’t change. Most people do not lament the loss of giant corporate bookstores, but in a way, they should – especially if they are the same people who continually buy books off Amazon and merely window shop at their local stores while saying how cute it is. It certainly takes a bit of convincing to get people to pay eight dollars for a book when they can get it for ninety-nine cents on Amazon – but in lieu of a long tirade for the literacy of America, I would like to put forward a couple of quiet arguments Remember, when we buy books, we pay for the ideas of other human beings. Even a horrible, dramatic, ridiculous novel that has laughable writing still took a person years or months of labor – charging five bucks for a year’s worth of labor is not a far-fetched idea when you think about it – no matter how cheesy the dialogue may be. We pay for the ability to discuss books with other book lovers, face to face, and the “extra” money you are spending is going to keep a roof over our heads while we do so.  Supporting a local bookstore instead of Amazon and spending the extra little cash goes to keep establishments around, and establishments are far more than stores – they are part of our neighborhoods, part of our lives, and give us places to be ourselves around other like-minded people. We are also paying for the ideals of bookstores as well. We are paying to value literature, to value reading and individual thought, personal relationships and the ability to be honest. We do not just support businesses by purchasing books from establishments rather than places. We support the arts, and in a way, our souls, by surrounding ourselves with the culture of the good and the noble. We help bolster our communities and thus, ourselves. So, next time, when you’re wavering on buying a novel from a tiny little bookstore because it’s three dollars cheaper on Amazon – think of where your money is going, who it’s going to, and what it will create. Something tells me you’ll be willing to spend a little extra.

Owner of Capitol Hill Books featured in People’s District

“I hope that the store will stay around, but I am in the buggy whip era. Know what that means? For a while, they made buggy whips because not everyone had a car. With buggies, you needed a whip to get the horse to trot. With the car, the buggy whip people went out of business slowly. So, that is me, slowly going out of business. Big book shops are closing down, and those two-faced bureaucratic Johnny Onenotes in the D.C. government scream out the window that they want to help small businesses, and then close the window. So, I have property taxes, Kindle, and Amazon working against me.” “I know it is just a matter of time before they push me out and make this another Starbucks, so that we can have more crap on every corner of this city.” Jim Toole is the owner of Capitol Hill Books at 657 C Street Southeast, Washington, DC


Full piece here.