One: The nerdshop
One of the saddest things I’ve witnessed recently is the decline of my local nerdshop’s tabletop RPG section. Like, this is the same store with the same guy who sold me my very first RPG book way back when I was a wee lass (it was Litany of the Tribes: Volume 1, if you’re wondering, and no, I didn’t know how RPG books “worked” back then), and over the years I’ve watched the section go from the entire back of the store, to four shelves, to two, and now down to barely one. And even that’s mostly Warhammer 40k stuff.
Every now and again, I venture into the store to have a browse. The last time I was there, I stopped to have a chat with the guy at the register, as I’ve done before on many occasions. He’s been there for years; we had a really long conversation about World of Warcraft once and after that he gave me staff discount for a while, which was neat.
I lamented the thin state of his RPG shelf, and told him I was looking for a particular title (which I was, and which they didn’t have). He said that, outside of a few titles (DnD and Warhammer 40k, mostly, with a little Pathfinder thrown in), the books were getting harder and harder to get, with smaller and smaller print runs.
Then he suggested I go look on Amazon.
“I know I can get it on Amazon,” I said. “But I want to buy it from you guys.”
He appreciated the sentiment, I think, but still couldn’t help.
Two: When Amazon was the internet, and the internet was Amazon
My very first encounter with Amazon was sometime circa the late 1990s. The store must’ve been very new then, and our household was still having its first few, early, tentative steps onto this newfangled “information superhighway” thingie.
I remember I was outside with mum on the back porch, sweeping leaves or somesuch–the porch was always covered in leaves; hooray for gum trees–when dad came out very excited about this thing he’d found on the “WWW” (we used it call it that back in the 90s).
“It’s like a bookstore,” he told us, excitement gleaming in his eyes. “Except it has everything.”
“Even After Man?” I asked. This was a book I’d found in our primary school library, and had kept constantly checked out for the better part of two years. Since moving to high school, however, I’d lost access to the copy, none of the local retailers carried it, and all attempts to special order it had failed. (Bookstores didn’t make much effort over special orders back in those days. I mean, where else were you gonna go, amirite? … Maybe it was just our bookstore.)
So dad took me to “the internet”–a thing I still had difficulty conceptualising–to see if we could buy After Man and, lo and behold. We could. Dad paid for it, it arrived something like four months later (Amazon didn’t have delivery drones back in those days), and thus was Lil’ Alis convinced that Amazon was like the greatest thing ever. Subsequent purchases were all things I couldn’t find locally; mostly Danny Elfman soundtracks, plus a copy of The Crow. Y’know. All the usual teen goth accessories.
The point is this: I don’t live in a huge city. It’s not tiny, but it’s not Sydney, either, and sometimes the availability here of specialty goods is… not good. And I remember the time before Amazon, the time when shopping options were limited to whatever bestsellers and small handful of remaindered titles the local bookstores used to stock. That world sucked, not to put too fine a point on it, and I revelled in the newfound world of online shopping, constrained only by delivery costs and the fact the mailman always comes when I’m out.
Three: The family tradition
When I was a kid, our family had a tradition of going out to the mall for dinner and shopping on Friday nights. After eating, without fail, we’d end up in the bookstore. My dad was always the last one out, still buried inside some paperback as the clerks were pulling down the roller doors. That was the ritual, every week, from as far back as I can remember until the time I left home for uni.
Back in those days, books were an almost at-will purchase my parents would make on my behalf. To get a computer game required a special event–a birthday, Christmas, good grades at school–but a book? All I had to do was want it, and I was never, ever short of things to read.
I’m not short of them now, either.
But we don’t spend every Friday in the bookstore, either. We can’t: It closed down, not long after Amazon opened.