Indecorous Comparative Shopping

I drove to a running store today. Ba-dum.

But that’s not the joke. The joke is I drove to a running store, received personalized help, tried on a variety of shoes, test-ran two types, reviewed video of my stride from the tests, and then left the store and bought the exact pair of shoes I favored — but did so online, for cheaper.

Now, that’s a good joke, right?

But it’s not what I did. The story’s the same except it ends with me buying the shoes from the running store. And if you were dismayed for a moment that I might have taken advantage of the running store — an independent one at that — let me ask you this: are you doing that to bookstores?

Are you visiting bookstores and receiving personalized browsing services — and then clicking to an e-tailer competitor and purchasing the book for cheaper? Because if you are, I say you’re being indecorous.

“Oh, but the prices are higher at the bookstore,” you say. “I’m just comparative shopping.”

You just received individualized service. In person. That maybe taught you about books. And maybe you attended a free author tour as well at the store. And discovered an additional book you wouldn’t have otherwise because you were at a store. And met other book-type people and now have new book-nerd friends. And picked up brochures for a local restaurant and theater and arts fundraiser from the bookstore lobby or bulletin board and attended all those a few days later.

It may be comparative shopping, but maximization of cheapness is not going to do us well. We’re going to lose one of the last bastions of literature — the bookstore — and along with it personalized recommendations, book tours, community. What’s my charge? Buy books at your local bookstore, especially ones that contribute to the literary culture of your geographic area.

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