You’ve Got Mail ended up romanticizing a problem. The movie was enjoyable, people still love it and watch it over and over without a tint of disinterest. But, apart from the love-struck strangers finally meeting, there’s another storyline: a giant bookstore-chain shutting shop for a smaller, more intimate ‘Shop Around the Corner’. You can call it callous, if you wish. We’re seeing this happen in real-time now, but with no Kathleen or Joe for visual flamboyance.
Shakespeare & Company has been an abode for creatives, for writers and readers alike. Set up by George Whitman back in 1951, this independent bookstore is known far and wide. Yet, when the lockdown began and extended through months, the shop found its sales dwindling and Whitman’s daughter, Sylvia, who now runs the store, had to send out emails of appeal to the its trusted customers. That even a renowned bookstore, famous for housing ‘tumbleweeds’ and publishing James Joyce’s Ulysses, had to face such a fate owing to the new norm only shows how much more adverse it might be for other independent stores, irrespective of what they sell. With people retreating into their homes and cutting down on their interactions, there’s been a burgeoning reliance on digital purchases which quite expectedly often routes itself to Amazon. E-commerce has emerged winner amidst all the halts in business.
This is where Bookshop.org comes in as an appreciable intervention. It aims to work on integrating independent small bookstores virtually and taking these to customers without them having to be there in person – it’s here for the indies. Of course, this robs one of the touch-feel-and-smell experience of actually being there and going through aisles of books to finally select one or maybe a dozen. But it works! It steps in as an opportunity for the stores to reach out to potential customers despite books being categorized as “non-essential” items. This labelling has created much tension in France where Amazon is currently being put to blame with each passing day for taking full control of the sales of books or makeup products.
It’s tricky to maintain a stable balance between small businesses and giants like Amazon that have spread out their supply systems. With the vastness and hold of the latter comes a great deal of advantage, especially in the case of quick delivery, diverse choices, and so on. However, you cannot weigh one as more valuable than the other based on mere organisational expanse. We must promote local and independent stores. Dedicated platforms like Bookshop.org can help expand the area of their sales, take these small stores to localities beyond their own. At times when it’s impossible to physically pick what you need, without a cushion for resilience planted in each niche, the small businesses would suffer graver setbacks. This period has made us realize that the economy needs flexibility and resilience. For either, a hegemony of chain-stores isn’t ideal.
When economies are thinking of diversifying their supply chains, perhaps we, as individual consumers, can think of diversifying the caterers to our needs. After all, small is big.