By Lauren Herber, Editor-in-Chief
The first time I visited Phoenix was in April 2015. I had recently found out about Thunderbird and was strongly considering attending, but I wanted to visit the school and talk to some current students before making my final decision. Having grown up in the Midwest before moving to Boston, Phoenix was unlike any place I had ever been before. It was hot, flat, and brown; the “downtown” area was no more than a cluster of high-rise buildings surrounded by wide-lane streets devoid of any sign of human life (there’s actually a word for this phenomenon, I found out: it’s kenopsia). Glendale, as I surely need not tell you, was worse.
I’ve always preferred large cities. I love the hustle and bustle of city life, the buzz of thousands of people chattering in various languages, the almost tangible feeling of opportunity that surrounds you. So when I first moved to Phoenix, I felt torn: in Thunderbird I had found a family, but Phoenix didn’t really feel like home. I found my sanctuary on 16th Street and Bethany Home Road at a little hole-in-the-wall, local used bookstore called The Bookshop.
As an avid reader, I’ve always been drawn to bookstores. I seek them out wherever I travel around the world, and I’ve been to some pretty amazing, unique, and beautiful shops. The thing that I love most about bookshops is that they never fail to fill me with a sense of adventure, and remind me of the endless possibilities left to explore. I can always find myself in bookstores, because they remind me why I am the person that I am and why I’ve made the choices I’ve made: I’m committed to pursuing a life of adventure and learning. Browsing the shelves I see books that remind me of happy memories, sad memories, and memories yet to be made. Flipping through the pages of a used book I might find a note here, an old receipt there, and I feel a sense of community, of belonging, because another reader and I have shared the experience of reading this same book, even though we will likely never meet.
The memory is still fresh: I had been living in Phoenix for a couple of months and was still struggling to adjust. Chatting with one of my closest friends from college, I admitted that I thought maybe I’d made a mistake leaving Boston, and that I missed home. “Didn’t you tell me there’s a used bookstore close to where you live? You should go check it out.” At first I scoffed at her advice, preferring to wallow in self-pity. But I couldn’t get it out of my head, and after a couple of weeks I went. Then I went again. And again. There weren’t usually many customers—I was often the only one, so I was free to hog the reading chair in the corner, sprawl out on the ground, and block the fiction and poetry sections for as long as I wanted. I got to know Sven, the owner, and found many treasures there. I remembered why I had decided to leave Boston: because I wanted to continue learning and growing as a person who takes risks and embraces uncertainty and adventure. The Bookshop played a crucial role in helping me find myself in a new city, and eventually grow to call that city home.
So you can imagine my devastation when I went to the 16th and Bethany Home Road plaza last Saturday to find The Bookshop closed. I stood numbly in front of the locked door, peering through the windows and willing the image before me to magically transform into the place I loved. But there was nothing: no overstuffed bookshelves, no twinkling lights, no kitschy posters, no Sven, nothing. I went door to door to the other shops in the plaza until I could find someone who could give me an answer. Apparently, someone new bought the whole plaza and raised the rent, taking advantage of the rising economic tide of the area, a result of the new condominium and apartment complexes being built. The Bookshop couldn’t keep up. And it wasn’t alone: I passed another shuttered local business during my search for answers.
I’m sad and I’m angry; I feel like I’ve lost a close friend. But who (or what) is to blame for this tragedy? Is it consumers, who seem to have become increasingly lazy? Is it the big box retailers, like Barnes & Noble, that make it difficult for local players to compete? Is it the oftentimes cold and callous capitalist system, which claims its victims without mercy or second chances? Is it e-reading devices and technology? Or is it just people’s lifestyle habits in general—have people stopped reading?
Next week, I’ll take a look at these things and the state of reading in the United States in general. But for now, I want to say farewell to The Bookshop. It may seem silly that I would give this much credit to a store. But to me it was so much more. Thank you for reminding me who I am and why I challenge myself. I will never forget you.