When I was in my twenties one of my favorite things to do was linger in a bookstore looking for something to read. I discovered the great Latin American novelists at Barbara’s Bookstore on Broadway in Chicago. Later, I spent a good portion of my graduate school stipend in the lit crit section at the Border’s on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. Both bookstores are now gone, and while they were both chains, they understood their local clientele as well as any independent bookstore.
Amazon has everything for sale, which is both its strength and its weakness. The Borders near my house, like most chain bookstores, exists to sell bestsellers. Independent bookstores, of course, are the best places to buy books, but it’s rare that I find one in which the owner’s tastes mesh with mine.
That’s why the impending loss of the Prairie Avenue Bookshop is so dispiriting. It’s one of those rare bookstores where you can trust the tastes of the owners, where everything in the store is worth reading. Interestingly, according to the owners, Wilbert and Marilyn Hasbrouck, their business is being killed by people who find what they’re looking for in the bookstore, then buy the books online to avoid Chicago’s 10.25% sales tax, the highest in the county. (Thanks, Todd Stroger!) Unless a buyer can be found by September 1st, the store will close. Wilbert Hasbrouck is looking for someone who can rejuvenate the store’s web presence and turn it into the best place in the world to buy architectural books–an interesting challenge that doesn’t sound too daunting.