Gas station without pumps

2017 July 22

Logos no more

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:19
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On Thursday this week, I spent most of my afternoon waiting in line to check out at a bookstore.  The main used-book store in town, Logos, is going out of business after 48 years and they have started their closing sales (which will probably last another month or two).  Thursday was the first day of their sale, and though prices were not particularly low (20% off their usual prices), a lot of people wanted to mourn the passing of the bookstore (and use up their store credit before all the “good” books were gone).  The result was so many people wanting in that the fire marshal insisted on a rule that a person could only enter the store when one left.  But the wait to get in was not all that bad (about 30 minutes)—the delays were in checking out, as the store had only four registers in operation and none of the cashiers had ever been trained for speed (bookstores gain more from social interaction at the register than from high-speed transactions).  I was in line to check out for about an hour, and my wife, waiting in the other line, was in line for about 3 hours.  Most of the 125 people that the fire marshal permitted were waiting in one or the other checkout lines.

Here is how the Sentinel started their article  Logos, a beloved Santa Cruz bookstore, falls victim to a changing retail economy:

For the first time since the summer of the moon landing, Santa Cruz will soon be without Logos, the used-book emporium that has been part of the downtown landscape since the days of the Pacific Garden Mall.

In about six weeks, after a long everything-must-go liquidating sale, Logos will shut its Pacific Avenue doors for good.

John Livingston, the store’s owner and operator for its entire 48-year run, said that he put the store up for sale a year ago. Facing little interest and no serious offers, as well as sharply declining revenues, he has decided to close his business.

Since the rebuilding after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the anchor businesses downtown have been Bookshop Santa Cruz near the north end of Pacific Avenue and Logos near the middle.  (More recently, Cinema 9 has also drawn a lot of people downtown.)  The rest of the businesses are mostly a mix of surf shops, boutiques, gift shops, and eateries.  (After dark, only the restaurants and bars are open, and the highest crime rate in the city seems to be about closing time for the bars downtown.)

For a while around the turn of the century, Santa Cruz was the chief battleground between independent bookstores and chains (the owner of Bookshop Santa Cruz was the president of the Independent Booksellers Association and both Crown Books and Borders opened stores in downtown Santa Cruz with the avowed intent of crushing Bookshop Santa Cruz—both are gone, but Bookshop Santa Cruz remains).  Logos was mostly ignored in this fight, as there were no large chains trying to get into the used-book business, which has long relied on customer browsing, impulse purchases, and store owners who know both their customers and their stock—not a business that scales well.

Between a third and a half of my over 3000 books have come from Logos, and they have been where I’ve sold back my surplus and duplicate volumes.  A bookstore that primarily sells new books (like Bookshop Santa Cruz) may be better for authors, but browsing the stacks of a used bookstore for books that are long out of print or undeservedly forgotten is a pleasure that cannot be duplicated by on-line shopping.  I’ve bought a few books online, when I knew precisely what I wanted and it wasn’t available locally, and I’ve bought new books from Bookshop Santa Cruz, but most of my purchases have been used paperbacks from Logos.

These purchases were a result of browsing—I needed a book (or 10) for bedtime reading, and I had only vague ideas about what I wanted: usually science fiction or fantasy, with characters I could identify with and decent world building (both of which are rarer than they should be in the genre). Browsing is very difficult in on-line purchasing, and new bookstores tend to be too stuffed with the latest fad books (where they make what little profit they get) to have much that I’m interested in reading and haven’t already read. (OK, that may be more a commentary on the narrowness of my tastes than on the contents of the store.)

I mourn the passing of an era—soon there will be no places left to browse through stacks of paperbacks, looking for treasures amongst the dross.  Logos had decent book buyers, so the ratio of treasure to recyclable paper was higher than at many bookstores (though it always irked me that they would buy back only about a quarter of my surplus books—they’d sold the books once, why did they think they couldn’t sell them again?).

My wife has even more cause to mourn Logos than me, as about half the books she acquired for her school library were from Logos. Almost as many were from Friends of the Library books sales, but that source is much less reliable and requires very fast decision making for children’s books, as they are snapped up quickly.

For those, like me, who appreciated the pleasures of finding strange and wonderful books and being able to buy them for very low prices, take a little time in the next couple of weeks to visit Logos for remembrance’s sake.

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