Sunday, August 07, 2005

More Than Ever

Yesterday I visited a friend upstate and we wound up running an errand in a local Barnes & Noble. Lately I've noticed that most of the people I know in the suburbs tend to shop not in mammoth malls but in small strip malls anchored by a specialty super-store: B&N, Home Depot, etc. I don't know if this is an actual trend or just a series of coincidences I've arbitrarily assigned a pattern to. But I can't recall the last time I was in a mall - you know, the kind with stores that open up onto an enclosed lobby/atrium, with benches and foliage and small awful chain stores that sell cheap tawdry clothing and personalized t-shirts and jewelry. Where have they gone?

But back to B&N - this one might not have been in a mall, but it still felt vaguely off. The staff too smiley, the stacks of books too exact, the magazine racks too full. Of course I prefer the smaller local bookstores even in the city, so I'm not one to embrace the whole super-store concept. But there was a moment on the escalator when I looked down at the familiar green and white signs and felt depressed. I could be anywhere, in any town across the country and they would still have the table of "Idiot's Guide" books at 20% off. Blink once, and all of the sales help speaks in a Texas drawl. Once more, a Midwestern flatness.

It wasn't just B&N; there was a few hours of jumping in and out of the minivan in assorted parking lots to go into assorted wide-aisled stores, all of which left me feeling depressed. They are so clean! So bright! Shouldn't this be a good thing?

Back to the city with its chaos - the 4 train wasn't running to Brooklyn this weekend, so I left Grand Central to walk across 42nd Street to the F train. Not half a block and my heart began to swell. People, sidewalks, buildings, my city. I passed the public library, Bryant Park. A young girl was curled up inside a circular window on a brick building of the park, smiling down at her mother's camera. Everyone who walked past caught the smile until we were all grinning.

I crossed the street again when I saw Coliseum Books, one of my favorite non-chain book stores. I went in and saw the same books that I'd seen in B&N, and I bought two, because suddenly I couldn't be without them.


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