Monday, January 11, 2010

B. Dalton, RIP

Okay, folks, we're back and better than ever for 2010! Sorry for taking the first week off. We promise to try and not leave you high and dry in the future.

Having said that, please consider this a kind of soft launch, as it were. I'm not coming out swinging, but rather offering a pleasant, casual post about a relatively quiet story... perhaps I'm still in vacation mode.

As many of you know, the bookseller B. Dalton is closing down completely. Jackie Crosby of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune offers this obit for the chain, which started in Southdale Center in Edina, MN. What I find so intriguing about this story is how it offers a brief history of a bookstore that was, for so many of us, ubiquitous in our suburban childhoods.

At Deerbook Mall in scenic (note sarcasm) Humble, Texas, the B. Dalton was the store I had to visit just before closing one night, much to my working parents' chagrin, to grab one of their last copies of T. H. White's The Once and Future King, just before we started reading it in 9th grade. (This was also the first time I recall being overwhelmed by assigned reading - we had to read 30-40 pages a night, I believe.) It had a great location in that mall - right across from the food court. The store became a bit desolate, however, when B&N opened a Book Stop across FM 1960, which while small by today's superstore standards, seemed huge at the time. I remember the wonder at finding a fully stocked poetry section, a huge number of journals and magazines, and a fiction section that had all kinds of cult fiction that I had heard of but didn't know how to get - B. Dalton was never hip, but instead always painfully middle-brow, even by suburban standards. One aspect of its history that didn't surprise me in Crosby's article was how it found great success by predicting the popularity of Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingstone Seagull. Ouch. Again, Bookstop wasn't revolutionary ultimately - just FM radio to B. Dalton's AM.

(As a sidenote, I don't know what the Humble Bookstop is now, but it's endlessly cooler older sibling, the Houston Bookstop located in the Alabama Theatre downtown, recently closed, but not without a fight.)

I'm not surprised to learn that B. Dalton was a mere effort to take advantage of the growing number of Baby Boomers with disposable income who liked to read in the 1970s. The place always struck me as a bastion of self-help and financial books. Say what you want about B&N, as Ted Striphas explains in his book (The Late Age of Print), it started out as a way to take advantage of the college book market, and in some ways it retains that feel.

So RIP, B. Dalton, and may your passing lead to the opening of new and exciting venues for selling books (though preferably not in a corporate manner, but rather in a independent, sustainable manner that is better for workers, communities, and the planet). Cheers!

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