March 10, 2014

They bulldozed this bookstore to put up a parking lot but people are celebrating


The brave little bookseller, before it was razed to make way for parking.

The brave little bookseller, before it was razed to make way for parking.

Why aren’t we mourning this abrupt bookstore closure in Indiana?

It’s such a tired trope: all bookstores are doomed. No matter that many indie stores across America had record-breaking years in 2013. The persistent media story is one of mourning over the loss of indie bookstores. And sure, we’re tired of that dangerous cliche, but the Louisville Courier-Journal seem to be taking things too far in the other direction by celebrating the closure—and demolition—of one innovative young store.

As Grace Schneider writes for the Courier-Journal:

In the last month, seven residences and an adult bookstore that the city of New Albany tried to shut down have disappeared from two blocks on the city’s West Main Street. Neighboring business owner Marlin Andres bought the properties between West Fifth and West Seven streets, and a final closing on the adult business last month paved the way for a large demolition and clearing.

Andres, the owner of Globe Mechanical, a burgeoning pipe fabrication business located along the floodwall between West Fourth and West Eighth streets, said his company is running out of room and may use some of the property later for offices. But for now, the cleared property will be paved for parking.

That’s right. A bookstore has been torn down to make a parking lot for a pipe factory. And yet, as Schneider notes, “West End residents are thrilled that the blighted area is getting cleaned up.” And, as the use of that word “blighted” might indicate, Schneider herself seems to agree. Why such celebration? Have we turned a dark corner, around which people are urging on the demise of booksellers?

It’s particularly sad to read such celebration when the store itself seems to have been such a source of innovation. Since the advent of ebooks, many stores have come to see their children’s sections as something of a lifeline—picture book sales remain vastly stronger in print than in digital formats. And, too, indie bookstores often cherish the chance to let very young customers consider their stores a second home. It’s daring, then, for a store to bill itself as strictly ‘adult,’ and speaks to the seriousness of their devotion to the written word if even picture books are a step too far. (Of course one wonders whether an ‘adult’ bookstore would make concessions and stock those books by literary greats that happen to be written for younger readers—the children’s literature of Daniil Kharms, for instance, Tove Janson, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o or Ursula LeGuin.)

What other bookseller do you know brave enough to call themselves ‘adult’ and forego the easy money of YA bestsellers like the Twilight or Mockingjay series.

Perhaps they meant ‘adult’ in the sense that only the most sober worshippers at the shrine of the written word were welcome. Imagine how wonderful it must have been to browse those cool aisles beside the Ohio river, to stride through that temple to books. One can only dream of what treasures might have been hidden on their shelves, no doubt sagging with obscure translation, with lost editions of precious minor tomes. What a loss.

And, too, any store willing to name itself, ironically, New Albany DVD is surely doing interesting, innovative things.

The store was even a pugnacious supporter of freedom from censorship. Schneider writes:

New Albany DVD opened in February 2004, and although the city attempted to order the business to close, officials didn’t have an ordinance prohibiting the business.

New Albany DVD sued, citing its rights to free expression, got an injunction allowing it to continue to remain open and finally prevailed after six years, in mid-2010, at a cost to the city of $300,000. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case.

It’s unclear why the town may have wanted to close a bookstore in the first place—no doubt outrage over the store’s willingness to stock oft-banned material—Song of Solomon, for instance, or Howl.

All in all, this store sounds like an incredible cultural touchstone. While we tire of paeans to stores lost, this of all stores would seem to deserve some tears shed. We should all be so lucky as to have a store like New Albany DVD on our block. Shame on the town of New Albany, and shame on the Courier-Journal for celebrating its brutal destruction.



Dustin Kurtz is former marketing manager of Melville House.