Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In This World of Purchase...

Pioneer Book is a used book store on Center Street in downtown Provo that has been there since probably before I can remember. Whenever we went there when I was a kid, I'd spend the hours (my mom really was and still is that dedicated to her book searches) wandering in awe through the maze of ceiling-high bookshelves, breathing in the aroma of millions of dusty old pages, of the rejected readings of thousands of people over the years. I'd literally get lost in the maze of narrow, makeshift-looking shelves of the huge store. It was always quiet, quieter than a library because all sound was muffled by the buffer of books at every turn. Sometimes I'd go into a dead end of the maze and sit, lightly and quietly fingering through the books with interesting-looking covers or enticing situations summarized on the back.

In short, I was enthralled by the magic of the store, and when a road trip to Utah to visit grandparents or spend a few days at the Shakespeare festival was announced, I got used to asking if we were going to go to "that cool bookstore," and it became a regular stop.

Several years later, my sister Megan worked there and loved it. She told me how she wished she could slip into the envelope of books they were mailing to faraway places and be mailed along with them. I remember her opening the book vault for my mom and I once, where they keep rare and delicate books. The magic just couldn't go away.

Or so I thought.

Yesterday I went there looking for Christmas presents for myself and a loved one (who shall remain unnamed since the Holiday hasn't yet passed). I noticed that they'd finally opened the wing with a little cafe that apparently has been in the works since my sister was employed there. I was excited to see how it had turned out, since the time I went with my sister and her kids to talk to the manager about how it might turn out. My first thought as I approached the store this time was that they had chosen a rather silly name for the cafe: Cafe Trendz. Really? Trendz? And with a 'Z'? It seemed ridiculous. But I went inside-- you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, you know. Immediately I could sense that something was different. There were no stacks of books on the checkout counter, waiting to be sorted and reshelved. Had there ever been? Had my memories of the place been only romantic visions? I moved on. The entire first part of the store was covered in LDS literature and the like, with a small section for 'Popular Picks' and History. Okay, fine, it is called Pioneer Book. So I moved into the second room, now the cafe. It was cute, but looked just like a Starbucks or any other little coffee shop-- only far fewer people, and at least half of them were only there for the WiFi.

So I passed on through to the third section, where two giddy college girls were laughing at each other and shelving books. I was only slightly annoyed until one of them threw a couple of books to the floor from where she was standing (on a ladder, shelving on the topmost shelf). The books landed, splayed awkwardly, with a flapping thud. I'm certain my eyes widened because after noticing I was there she said quickly, "Oh, that was a bad idea." But didn't get down to pick them up or set them straight. I wanted to browse the general fiction section, but that's where the employees were working hard, so I looked at the Classics section and got a little peek at General Fiction when one of the girls left to go get something, but I couldn't find anything I was looking for. I did find a couple of books I liked, but they were priced exorbitantly. I mean really, $2 for a book with a bent and grainy cover? I saw one for $3 that was almost water-damaged beyond recognition.

I thought about asking one of the girls in the next aisle if they had any Bradbury or Vonnegut, or if they could direct me to Mary Stewart's section, but doubted they knew much about the situation. They probably might have, but when I realized the bookstore was no longer quiet (the hip tunes emenating from Cafe Trendz and the laughter and odd remarks from the employees saw to that) and the scent of the books was being masked by the smell of black coffee, I began to be annoyed, but mostly disappointed. I put down the books I was thinking of purchasing, stepped over the pile of books on the floor that had been tossed there, and left thinking how sad it was that one of my favorite childhood places had been turned into something else.


Jared and Megan said...

Interesting blog entry.

I know how you feel, partly about the store, and partly about other things from childhood changing (or appearing differently after maturing).

As for Pioneer Book, I agree to an extent... the charm is largely gone... but it's still a small, personal business and generally you get better customer service from those types of businesses. Granted, giggling college girls are probably the wrong people to ask. They'll know how to use the database, sure, but they probably won't have specific books' positions memorized, like Richard or Rick often do.

As far as the other changes, it's good to understand that with that old charm and dustiness came chaos. Richard knew where lots of books where, and it's pretty genius, but there were also lots of books that went unaccounted for. Now that they have the database and try to keep things more organized, it's easier to find things. Also, having the database helps their online side of the business, and that's probably helped them survive in this economy. I'm all for the smaller businesses surviving. And I don't know the numbers, but I'm betting that getting computers more involved has brought in a lot more money for them in general.

I think, as with most things, it's kind of a catch-22. You can't have both efficiency and the nostalgic dusty-ness and labyrinthine bookshelves. I miss the old bookstore, but the new one has it's positives, too.

Shannon said...

I didn't even see the owners in there. It made me feel like they were to busy being entrepreneurs to come into the store, but then I realized I didn't really know what the younger one looked like, and it could've been him at the counter.
I wish I could see the world through the eyes of me as a child sometimes. But then I might miss out on the more subtle things.

Shannon said...

Oh, and I can totally understand how being organized can make life so much easier, especially in a place like that with so much merchandise. I just wish they wouldn't tape those colored stickers to the spines.

LP said...

I agree that streamlining with computers is a good idea, but there are ways to be organized without tearing out shelves and replacing them with coffee potz and annoying music. And if they could just get someone in there to dust once in a while!