Catch those lights, will ya….

As of December 31 at about 4:00, LuAnn closed the doors of Green River Books for good.

It’s been a while coming. Last year at roughly the same time, she thought the store might have to close and was quite a ways down that road. But we ended up taking a hard left and it became a kids’ store. Books and toys and various whatnots.

For a while, it did well. But then it just…sort…of…petered out. It simply couldn’t keep its head above water. Our customer base, while fiercely loyal, simply wasn’t big enough to keep the thing running. And very few things we tried worked. We tweaked stock. We expanded – and retracted – hours. We hosted readings and parties and festivals. We had local books and local authors and photography contests and writing contests and reading groups and I can’t even remember what all.

And it has been an interesting ride. We spent six and a half years surrounded by books and people who loved books and discussions of books and arguments about books. But not just books. Discussions of books became discussions about what those books were about. It was not unusual for someone to walk in and find myself and a local judge talking about the 16th century Chinese navy, or find LuAnn and a local attorney dissecting how humanism fits in an America increasingly riven by right-wing religion.

Nor was it unusual to come in and find an author talking about his or her book. Jay Bonansinga, Ron Bluemer, local authors galore. Hell, just during the first week we were open, way back in July, 2002, we had something like 35 authors. At one signing, for a book about a local mining tragedy 100 years ago, we had something like 120 people.

But there were fewer of those successful signings than there were those which had the author, myself or LuAnn, and whoever happened to wander in looking for a bookmark.

And it was that that killed the store.

Our devoted fans and customers spent as much as they could, but there simply weren’t enough of them.

You know, I paused there for a minute to try and figure out what I was writing about, what this post was about. Yeah, it’s about the store but what is there really to say? We opened it, it did well, then it didn’t, then we closed it.

I thought I’d talk about the good moments and the people who meant so much to us and that’s all fine, but there’s part of me that doesn’t really feel like writing anything, as witnessed by the fact that the store closed four days ago and I’m just now writing about it.

And that might be the lesson of this post. I am torn about the closing. There is part of me that’s sad. But there is another part that is ready and maybe even happy to see it done. Honestly, I’m just tired. I’m tired of worrying about getting the bills paid, or lately not paid (and watching the financials just get exponentially worse over the last six months…to the point where I dream about the end of the world on a nightly basis…I’ll tell you about the increasingly lunatic dreams in another post in a few days). I’m tired of worrying about what happens if LuAnn is sick for a day or two. Do we close and lose increasingly needed business? Or do we keep it open and make her work and prolong her cold or flu or whatever?

But mostly I’m tired of listening to the whiners.

“I can’t order this book and get it today?”

“What? You don’t have this book on the history of geology in northern Africa throughout the colonial period?”

“I can’t get a better discount than this?.”

“I can get this cheaper from Amazon.”

Swear to God, I had a guy at the last Harry Potter party (when 10,000 people roamed the entire shopping district of Princeton and spent an incredible amount of money and what did the city donate? Portable toilets. That’s right, the city of Princeton thought the 10,000 people and their money was worth…shit) who bitched about our discount versus Wal Mart’s.

Ours was none, Wal Mart’s was 50% or something.

But the kicker is: this guy stood there and bitched at me WHILE HE WAS ATTENDING THE PARTY!

Hmmmm, you think Wal-Mart donated any money to that party? Fuck no, it came outta my pocket so take your complaint and get the shit outta my store.

I also had a guy once who told me he preferred to do his book shopping at Amazon because it was cheaper. I said that was fine, but when his house burned down, he should call Amazon rather than the fire department and see how much in sales tax they had collected for the fire department.

“Oh, that’s right,” I said to him. “They don’t do sales tax. Too bad about your house, I guess.”

Elsewhere in this blog, I wrote about the woman who wanted a deeper discount on a book already discounted 25% because it was a Christmas book and when she bought it, it wasn’t Christmas time.

That’s the crap that made me crazy and I’m glad those wackos will be out of my life.

But at the same time, I will miss the store and the smell of books and the soft flipping of pages as people read through something and the pleasant grin when someone discovered a new writer or a new thought in a book they randomly pulled from the shelves.

So I guess I have no epiphany after six and a half years. We came, we sold, we didn’t sell, we left.

That’s about it.

(3)…the final few pages…until the next chapter

Okay, so there are some of you who probably don’t know it yet but…I love kids.

I really do. They’re so cute and cuddly and blah blah blah.

Okay, I hate kids. Can’t stand the ankle biters. I mean, for propogation of the species (hehehe, almost wrote spices) they’re okay. But individually, can’t stand ’em.

So it’s my lot in life to be constantly dealing with them. At the theater in Denver, I was in charge of the part of summer camp that had between 20 and 30 eight to twelve year olds for nine – NINE – solid weeks.

They loved me.

I taught classes at the theater for young kids who wanted to learn tech.

They loved me.

I’m a certified juvenile officer. The kids I’ve dealt with?

They love me.

So when LuAnn did a hardcore analysis of the bookstore and decided to keep it open, I thought…well, okay, you’re store, I guess.

Yeah, guess what….

A fucking kid’s store.

Are you kidding me with this? A store specializing in children’s books and children’s toys and parenting and all manner of crap that has to do with kids.

I just want to scream “Calgon take me away!”

LuAnn had a bunch of meetings with all kinds of people – bankers and Chamber of Commerce types and merchants and a rep from the Small Business Administration – and decided she hadn’t tried everything she could to keep the store open.

She did an analysis of each and every department and they had all fared and guess what? Only the kids’ department went up every year. Even during the shitty years, it kept going up. Everytime she’d expand that department, it would sell through.

So we’re keeping the store open and already the customer base has expanded. There have been people in who’ve we’ve never seen before, dropping money and asking to special order books (we’re still doing any special order anyone wants, not just kids’ books) and the whole bit.

Makes me crazy. Why? Not ’cause the store’s still open. Not ’cause LuAnn will continue to have that “I’m the Boss” OCD thing going.

‘Cause it’s kids.

Why in hell did it have to be kids?

I feel like Indiana Jones in teh first flick. “Snakes…why’d it have to be snakes? I hate snakes.”

Yeah, substitute kids and you’re pretty much floating on the same boat I’m stuck on. The store’ll be full of kids and their parents and their grandparents and everybody’ll be laughing and singing and having a grand ol’ time and it’ll drive me bugfuck. All that happiness…yeeech.

I mean, I’m excited about the store and the fact that I’ll still get James Lee Burke and Sean Doolittle and James Crumley at a discount, but…come on.



(2)…the final few pages.

“It’s a twenty-five percent discount, right?” the woman asked.

“Yes,” I said. “Everything in the store is twenty-five percent off cover.”


Then she wandered away and started picking through our stock. About a half-hour later, she had quite the pile’o’books. I was pleasantly surprised….

…until she looked at me with a face that just said trouble.

“How about this?” She held out a Christmas book.

“How about it?”

“Well, I mean…it’s a Christmas book.”

“Yes, it is.”


“So…Merry Christmas?”

“But it’s March.”

“Yes, it is.”

“It’s not Christmas.”

“No, it’s not. But the Ides of March are upon us.”

“Yes, but this book isn’t about the Ides of March. It’s about Christmas.”

“Yes, it is.”

“The discount’s twenty-five percent?”

“Yes, it is.”

“But shouldn’t it be more?”

“Because it’s not about the Ides of March?”

“Exactly. This book is out of season.”

“Well, you know…seasons come and seasons go, but the discounts are always here. And right now, they’re here at twenty-five percent.”

And so, after all that work, she put it back on the shelf.

Welcome to the closing of the store. Whatever we’re doing, it’s not enough. The discount isn’t deep enough, the selection isn’t good enough, the hours aren’t long enough.

Making me completely nutty.

But what’s worse are the eight million people who have come in and said, in their sad voices with their sad faces, how upset they are we’re closing. People neither LuAnn nor I have ever – EVER – seen.

Piss off. Don’t come telling me how sad it is when you’ve never, ever bought anything from us and probably have never set foot in the store.

There’s a book group that meets. One of the ladies in it has also never bought a book from us. Yeah, she comes and uses the store after hours but gets all her books from the library. I used to think she maybe didn’t have much money, so that’s understandable.

But last week, after their meeting, she plunked down better than $100…and was sad about us closing.

Kiss my Texas ass. How about that? How about, if you spend even as little as five or ten bucks every month when you guys meet, we might not be going out of business.


I’m sure I’ll get over that kind of crap eventually. What’s actually making me sad is the selling of the fixtures. When the books get sold and there is a hole, I just face out whatever’s left, make it look good.

But when seats and lamps and bookshelves get sold, there’s a hole in everything. Can’t just move some shelves around to cover it. There is no way to hide a thinning out store.

And even though the closing is very real – obviously – seeing holes where fixtures once stood makes it somehow more real. Not sure why that is, but it is.

And here’s the other maddening thing: special orders are through the roof. I mean hundreds of dollars of special orders – again from people who’ve never ordered through us – and there is no discount on that stuff. Those books are full price and people are flocking to buy them.

I don’t get it. And anymore, I don’t want to get it, I just want your money. Buy everything, get it out of my store, and leave your money on the counter.

And whoever the last person is, turn off the lights and lock the door.

(1)…the final few pages.

The first book was Tom Piccirilli’s Grave Men.

Actually, we sold it the day before we opened. A woman came in the open front door and started looking around. I was standing at the computer, taking care of last minute inventory stuff and there she was.

She went to westerns and I put Tom’s book in her hand and that was that.

Six years later, that is that.

After years of smashing our heads against the bricks of a county long since Wal-Mart-anized, Green River Books is closing. Don’t get me wrong, there were a couple of really great years in that run. But since 2006, the economy has been tough and fighting against an apathy toward downtown businesses – and a surprising apathy about reading – has been tougher.

One of the omens at the beginning that made both LuAnn and I smile was a neon sign at the high school that said, “Princeton Tigers Read!” We thought that was a great summation of what was going to be a grand adventure.

And yet, in spite of numerous attempts to connect with the high school, they never – as an organization – utilized us. Every year, they’d teach various classics of literature and never – not once – did they actually call us and tell us when the classes were starting or how many copies they’d need.

Apparently, Princeton Tigers read only when they have to.

Yes, I am bitter. Yes, I am angry. LuAnn has already gone through her twelve-steps of grief. She’s sad but ready to be done.

I am still pissed. I am still angry at the hordes of people we’ve seen in the shop since the sale started who we’ve never seen before. Hundreds of faces attached to hypocrites saying things like, “We’re so sad you’re closing.”

Yeah? Then maybe you should have visited the shop once – ONCE – in the six years we’ve been open.

I had a customer come in and say, “You guys are closing? I didn’t even know Princeton had a book store.”

Are you fucking kidding me? Six years, thousands of dollars of advertising, nearly 50 authors doing signings, 20,000 visitors to downtown for the bookstore-organized Harry Potter parties, and you never heard of us?

We bought our fixtures from a bookstore that closed up in DeKalb (infamously where the NIU shooting was a few days ago) and that manager was a bitter and pissy and being horrible about his customers. I told myself that was a mistake on his part and promised I’d never be that person.

Yeah, let me introduce myself: Mr. Pissy Bitter Man.

My customers are not bad, understand that. My hardcore customers actually started coming in the day BEFORE the sale. They knew they’d pay full price and they didn’t care. They wanted to pay full price because they knew that would help the store more. Those customers are the greatest. They have supported this store with the kind of full-throated voice that usually only comes from massively partisan party activists.

I will always love those people.

But those people who shopped before the sale and left us with a daily sales average of $100 and who then came in after the sale started and left us with a daily sales of $1200 can bite my ass.

“Yeah,” they’re saying with that kind of support. “We want the books, but we’re sure as hell not going to pay full price for them.”

Late in the day Saturday, I had a woman plunk down a few books. Right now, the store is at 25% off. She handed me a book that she thought was “out of season” and asked if there were a deeper discount because of that.

Twenty-five percent, evidently, isn’t quite enough.

It was all I could do not to punch her in the throat, take $100 out of the cash register for bail money, and call the cops to tell them I battered a bimbo.

Oh, yeah, I am that bookstore manager in Dekalb. Oh, yeah, I am pissy and bitter and angry and vocally inappropriate (though I try to minimize that because now I’m in the position of needing everyone to buy EVERYTHING so I can’t really afford to antagonize even those customers who don’t quite have all their teeth).

I promise I will try to get over my anger. But not today.