Canary in a Coal Mine, when an independent bookstore dies.

The Market Street Books at Arts & Letters Community Center is closing at the end of the month. We heard it first as rumor, then by e-newsletter, the local newspapers, and finally by the absolutely pitiful and undignified butcher paper sign hastily taped in the window with “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS” scratched out in Sharpie giving no credence to either Arts nor Letters.

As I rode by our own little local neighborhood bookshop this morning, it was like the Canary in a Coal Mine: vivid, high-contrast, caution-yellow against the Carolina blue sky. When your indie bookstore dies, is it a sign of times to come? Or has that time already arrived and only now, in your own backyard, do you feel the loss felt across the State, across the Nation and beyond?

Or is the bookseller’s commoditization of information its own predestined demise? It is for certain that an evolution occurred with the massive chain bookstores selling ambiance to sell books…or sell anything. When they were franchised together with coffee shops, fit out with cushy chairs apart and in clusters, wood trim, hunter green, live music.  It seems almost heinous to suggest that kind of evolve-or-die encouragement now.

But Market Street Books evolved too: as travel books and maps approached obsolescence by the internet, “Maps” was dropped and “Community” was added:

“We are a non-profit, full-service independent bookshop and arts-based community center, located in the Southern Village neighborhood of Chapel Hill. Our mission is to provide a destination for people who love books, theater, music, and art to come and hang out. Our motto is Contagious Creativity. Come in and experience the infectious ethusiasm and imaginative energy.

Market Street Books carries a wide selection of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books. Arts & Letters Community Center is bustling with activities like children’s theater, tai chi, drawing, altered books, and clay classes. Please check our schedule of events for fun things to do. (Click here for Peepfest 2009.)…children and pets welcome!”

Contagious Creativity? Children? Pets? Peeps?

On a business trip, when we first learned that we would be moving back to Chapel Hill, the first place I stopped into was this bookshop. I went in to ask about the neighborhood and soak up anything North Carolina. Later, my daughter did chlidren’s theater camps and clay classes. “Sweet” the candy shop was where lemonade stand proceeds were spent. And you could always find a great gift here. But ambiance came from the people and the community they intertwined, convening in that third place making the neighborhood a better place to live. This shop represented a whole lot more than this to some people, but for sure, there’s at least a little loss felt by most everyone with a place in their heart for the indie bookshop, and Peeps.

If only someday we can harness “imaginative energy ” to keep the lights on.

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