Around the beginning of last summer, I made a decision. It was a decision that was partially inspired by the author and all around awesome guy, John Green and his advocacy on the matter. It was also somewhat driven by a certain degree of location-based guilt. The Decision was to make all of my book purchases from the point of decision-making onward at a local independent bookseller called Greenley’s.
Greenley’s, a staple in downtown Belleville for more than 30 years, had bobbed in and out of my consciousness ever since I was old enough to start spending my own money (read: a tweenager). It was rarely a place that I sought out unless I was looking for an odd title (before I was old enough to start shopping online) or when I was looking for time to kill downtown. Still, it had a special kind of charm that I loved and, even as I grew and moved away and came back again, it was always something that stood out in my mind.
Then, a couple of years ago, I moved within walking distance of the bookstore’s Front Street location. Enter that location-based guilt I was talking about. Why drive uptown when I had a perfectly good bookseller in my own neighbourhood? It just made good sense, especially once I realized that they were more than happy to let me bring Jasper along on my excursions (real talk: any place of business that will let me bring my dog inside is instantly in my good books. Er, no pun intended…)
Generally it was my affinity for coffee and a good deal (not to mention a certain, undeniable degree of brand loyalty) that saw me buying book from our local Chapters location. But on the day that I found a couple of volumes of the hard-to-find-without-ordering-them Moomin book series (English translations of a Swedish-Finn children’s book series originally written back in the 40s that I had been trying to find without having to order them) on Greenley’s shelves, I realized that I didn’t care about the money saved as much as I thought I did. Even the convenience factor of bountiful and readily available titles didn’t phase me all that much, especially when I considered how Greenley’s employees had all but bent over backwards to order me titles in the past.
So I made The Decision: if it was a book I needed to buy, I would get it at Greenley’s. Chapters could have all of the paper and lifestyle product purchases my little heart desired (goodness knows I love a good notebook) but books were to come from one place and one place only.
In the months that followed I made good on that promise. Some days, Jasper and I went in on a mission for something very specific and on others we just browsed the shelves and enjoyed the atmosphere. Every time I made a purchase at Greenley’s I felt good knowing that I was not only supporting such a great place but that I was part of something.
It was atumn when I heard the news. I had been to Greenley’s just a few days earlier to place an early order on a Christmas gift and nothing had stood out as being amiss. Still, there is was in our local newspaper – a headline that read “The final chapter: Greenley’s closing”. Hard economic times and personal issues were forcing the owner to close shop come January.
I was heartbroken.
All I could think of were all of the missed opportunities. I felt like I had been robbed. In a way, I also felt like a bit of a failure, as though my recently dedicated patronage alone could have made a difference. I supposed it shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did; these days it’s amazing when any small town independent bookseller is able to keep its head above water and goodness knows that our downtown core has seen its fair share of tough luck. Still, the news hurt.
After Christmas I came out of the holidays with a bit more cash than expected. Seeing as I had decided to once again tackle the 50 Book Pledge, I knew exactly where to spend it. Jasper and I must have spent a good hour roaming the store, myself with very little in mind expect to stock-up. I wound up leaving with five titles – my last hurrah.
A couple of weeks ago, while walking the dog along Front Street for the first time since my mini book-shopping spree, I saw what I think I had been subliminally avoiding. Windows papered, shelves empty: Greenley’s was gone.
I’m still not completely sure how to reconcile how I feel about all of this. After all, as previously mentioned, it’s no secret that I really enjoy the Chapters/Indigo brand. But I do also have a whole lot of love for independent bookstores and I genuinely consider each shuttered storefront to be a serious cultural loss. How exactly do you make amends in a situation like this one? Is it even possible?
I wish I had some poetic and thoughtful point to close this post off on, but I don’t. Far smarter people than I can and have argued both sides of the coin in ways that I can’t begin to touch. But I’ll keep thinking about it and trying to figure out how and why the loss of a place like Greenley’s makes me feel the ways that I do because the alternative is not thinking about it all, and at that point all we’re doing is forgetting.