Tuesday, April 13, 2004


My father has lived in Chicago's near north suburbs since I was two, first in Evanston and then in Wilmette, which is just to the north. Since I live only a few hours' drive away, I visit him pretty frequently. In Evanston, near Northwestern University, there used to be an academic bookstore called Great Expectations. Its specialty was philosophy, in which it had an international reputation, but it had a very good selection in other fields as well. I enjoyed browsing there, and did so whenever I was in town, particularly since it was the only really good new bookstore within easy driving distance of my father's place(s). However, I never bought anything, except for the books they had on sale in the back for a few dollars. I live near a great university library that provides me with all the scholarly books I need, and I rarely come across an a scholarly book so compelling that I feel I have to actually own it, particularly since scholarly books tend to be expensive.

A year or two ago, I was in town again and stopped by Great Expectations, and it was gone: nothing there but a sign on the door saying we're closed, thanks for your patronage. I asked the proprietor of a nearby used bookstore whether they had moved. They hadn't: they'd gone out of business. They'd been hurt by the chains, and especially by the Internet, since they'd done a large mail-order business. I was shocked, though perhaps I shouldn't have been. I knew, of course, that a lot of independent bookstores had been unable to take the chains' competition; but I'd thought that a specialized bookstore like Great Expectations wouldn't have much trouble. (The Internet as a competitor never occurred to me.)

Since then, whenever I visit a store I really wouldn't want to see disappear, I make it a point to buy something, even if it's something I wouldn't otherwise buy. Realistically I know that what I buy at one store won't be enough to tip the balance, but it makes me feel better.

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