Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Best of Times

We took a day trip to one of our favorite small towns yesterday. My husband swam at the local YMCA, we both got massages, and I spent a little time in their local independant bookstore.

It's a wonderful little bookshop, with a little bit of everything, and nicely arranged. I had a good conversation with the owner, chatted about how much I would like to open up a little bookstore myself, except that I know how difficult it would be, all the different business skills I would need.

We talked a little about the virtues of small businesses, and how (I think) some aspects of the
American business community have gone wrong, by focusing solely on the purpose of creating value for shareholders. I said that a good business has three purposes: to create a good product or service for customers, to create a profit for shareholders (if that is applicable), and to create a good environment for employees. There has sometimes a focus on short-term profit at the expense of long-term value.

"I just wanted my community to have a book store," she confessed.

A bookstore is a business, there's no doubt about it. But a local business is also a part of a community, a part of the "common good" of a community, just like a school or a library or the fire department.

Some people treat the term "common good" as if it were a sign of creeping socialism. However, "common good" is just a word that recognizes that we live in a community.

In the bookstore, I saw and almost bought Neil Gaiman's book Instructions. It was on the table with books for graduates, a lovely and kind of strange picture book with instructions that sound like they have come out of a fairy tale.

"If the Bible is an instruction manual," I said to the bookstore owner, "It is probably more like this book than it is like, for example, your car owners manual." (I'm not really convinced that the Bible is an instruction manual at all, but just for the sake of argument....)

Except for one thing. Neil Gaiman's book is an instruction manual for individuals, for heroes who are on an individual quest. We assume that these days. We are all on a quest to find ourselves. But the Bible is an instruction manual written to a community, not to individuals. We are on a quest, but we are not alone. We travel together, we quest together.

We live in a community.

The best of times.


Lauralew said...

When I lived in western SD, there were no easily accessible independent book stores. So, I bought everything at Borders. Now, I am surrounded by independent book stores so it would be inconsiderate to purchase anything at a big box book seller. In fact, I'm headed to an independent book store this afternoon to do some poking around.

Fran Rossi Szpylczyn said...

Oh - what an image, you having a bookstore. I can see that - I can't comment on the business skills but I can say that your presence in such a place would be wonderful.

I try to shop at independent bookstores; I have to go into Albany to do it, but it is worth it. Not that I buy so many books any more!

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

it's thematic... community. i find my sermon winding it's way into very similar thoughts as your post...

Jan said...

What a wonderful image of you having a bookstore. . . .though it's difficult these days to be an independent book seller, though niche markets sometimes do well. I can feel the sense of community in your writing. Thank you, Diane.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Our town is losing another small business this week. Sad. The next town up the road is losing its grocery store now as well. They just lost their car dealership due to the govt involvement in that takeover. There's nothing like the customer service at a small business.

My husband's father managed, not owned, a lumberyard in a small town. They always shopped locally because of that knowledge that we all help feed each other. Now days, it isn't so hard to run to the Big Box stores to save a buck here and there. And more choices. But then we can all cry when the local store goes under and another family loses money and we lose the choice we had before. I have to drive 30 miles minimum to go to a Big Box, so that is sort of like a "tax" on spending.

I do go to the Big Box stores now and then. I'm not ashamed to say so, but I am always surprised when I see local shop owners in those stores.