Is It Time For The Second-Hand Bookshop To Close?

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When was the last time that anyone frequented a second-hand bookshop? I don’t know about you in the US because I’ve never been into a second-hand bookshop in the US, but in the UK they’re on the way out. An article in the Huff Post says so. I think there are many reasons for this and it’s not just the birth of the Internet.
It’s so easy to blame eBooks, or even search engines, for every ill in the world but perhaps there are more obvious reasons out there.

The most obvious problem I can see is the fact that most of these shops feel like someone has died in them. I have never felt comfortable in one of these places. In my experience, the owner is usually a crusty guy in a tweed jacket who looks second-hand himself. He sits on a rickety chair behind the counter reading one of the thousand books that surrounds him. He doesn’t acknowledge you when you walk in and merely grunts if you dare to ask a question. The term ‘customer service’ is as alien to him as deodorant.
Once you get past the gatekeeper, you then have to face the most impractical ordering system known to man. It’s called The Pile System. Books are arranged ever so slightly in genre but after that you’re on your own. In the old days, I’m sure the average patron connected some kind of romanticism with the task of searching through this horrendous mess but now, quite frankly, it’s shit. If the Internet can be blamed for anything in this situation it is simply the fact that people are now far less tolerant of inefficiency. Is this a problem?
I know there will be challengers that claim that finding a book in this process carries with it the same euphoria as finding a needle in the proverbial haystack, but… Come on. It would be like walking into a clothes shop and searching through a huge pile of fabric on the floor and actually being happy if you find anything that fits.
If the shop was more comfortable then maybe this exercise would be more pleasurable but it’s not. Perhaps a lick of paint, some nice shelves, a clean carpet, 1000% less dust, a conducive soundtrack rather than Elgar, how about some kind of understanding of stock, perhaps an ability to pay by card, serve nice coffee if you really are going to be spending five days looking through a crusty chap’s piles. I don’t know, I’m just being crazy here and radically brainstorming but you hardly have to be The Apprentice to work it out.
Second-hand bookshops are an antiquity that resembles the books they sell. I love books, I love reading, I love the mystique of an old book, I love the curiosity these shops harbour but I just can’t be bothered with this shopping experience. Especially not when I can get the same old book I’m looking for off eBay.
Like old record shops, we have to accept that these stores need to become a thing of the past in order to embrace a richer future. The emotion attached to such places is increased because of the emotion that the content within evokes. This emotion should be detached from the shop itself though in order to make a more objective decision.

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7 responses to “Is It Time For The Second-Hand Bookshop To Close?

  1. God I hope that the second hand bookshop don’t close. At times I buy used books via amazon market place. Some books are friggin rare and hard to come by.

  2. Any shop like the ones you describe should close. Doesn’t matter what they sell. Plenty of people out there who are willing to put effort into something.

    I’ve been in some great 2nd hand book shops – the feeling of time, of opportunity, of captured enjoyment is wonderful. But they have been well organised ones (maybe a bit tatty, but that’s because of their stock, not a lack of care), usually hidden away in the bigger cities and stumbled upon by accident (couple in Oxford and I have a vague memory of one in Notting Hill…but I may be mixing that up with the film!). Sad thing is though that I rarely buy from a bookstore, 2nd hand or new. It’s a simple fact that most books are cheaper online.

    • progress… apparently.

      I love old books, I just want to say for the record. I just don’t like crusty shops. It’s probably a jealousy thing because I’d love to own a little bookshop.

  3. 1835It will be a sad day if second hand book stores fall by the wayside.

    I am not sure why but I have always loved the atmosphere of these places, the older the better. It may be the child in me, full of anticipation at what might be found amongst the piles of books, maybe it is the inscriptions often hand written inside the covers that speak of a gift given to someone special, but often it is the thought of the original owner, and probably many others, who have held and enjoyed this book.

    I have frequented used book stores in the UK, (NI), Canada, the US, Australia and Japan. Yes they are all untidy and yes the owner of each could easily have been the same person each time but in every case I made a point of talking to them and each time saw their face light up at having been engaged in conversation.

    One of my most prized possessions is a rare Wordsworth (1835 edition) found in a small second hand book store on Abbey Rd in Bangor Northern Ireland. The owner was fair and we have remained friends since.

    I truly hope at least a few of these throw backs to an earlier time survive.

    Stephen.

  4. I actually like an old fashioned dusty 2nd hand bookshop but then again I rarely frequent them (not much call for them in my neck of the woods). If I do buy a second hand book it tends to be from a charity shop or school fete. Generally buy new books or ebooks these days. Your description did make me think of the wonderful “Black Books” comedy programme though. Check it out from Love Film if you’ve never seen it – hilarious.

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