I built my bookshelves with cinder block and plywood. I like the aesthetics, it’s both rustic and practical, and it takes up less space than a bookshelf. A number of the visitors commented on the shelves, they took it with them, along with the books in their hands. That’s what bookstores do. They stick with you, because they provide more than what you leave with in your bag, they provide something that only a bookstore can, and it’s difficult to explain, but people still try. I have never met anyone who would argue that, and still I have had the conversation many times regarding books vs eBooks.
Text sharing has been available online since 1971, at the time your option was The Declaration of Independence. You could download, and read it over the ARPAnet. In 1987 the first HyperText Books was released via Floppy disc, it was titled Afternoon, and was written by Michael Joyce. In 1993 Biblobytes launched the first website for book sales on the internet. Amazon was launched in 1995. And in 1999 Simon&Schuster created the imprint iBooks, and was the first publisher to publish titles in both eBook and print formats. In 2004 Sony released the Ectaco jetBook color, it was the first eReader on the market. And, in 2007 (The same year the first iPhone was released) Amazon releases the first Kindle, which as we all remember—or most of us remember… some of us? There are people that remember—changed the way that people read, and it began to change the industry, and created quite a scare for a number of years. Bookstores started going out of business, both small independently owned bookstores, and larger corporate stores (such as Borders Books, Music & Café), Barnes&Noble created their own eBook, the NOOK, which likely contributed to their success, or at least non-failure during this time.
The first translation of Wardrobe Books was developed inside of a closet on the second floor of a multi-vendor antique store on Main Street in Boerne, Texas. I hauled cinder blocks, two at a time up the stairs, and into the closet at the end of the hall. I did the same with several intentionally cut plywood boards, and built bookshelves along the three walls—as high as was reasonable, because a latter wouldn’t be realistic in the setting. Afterwards I hauled box, after box, after box, after box full of books. I had spent time in the days prior going through the many different boxes that I had, and deciding on which would be best to display on the limited space. I organized, and alphabetized, and put em’ all on the shelf. I sat there staring at this tiny cubicle, a closet, a wardrobe with bookshelves, and books and I felt proud. It didn’t matter to me that three people, cramped could stand in the room. What mattered to me was that for years I had spent countless hours collecting books, organizing books, listening books online (one book at-a-time), selling books, inventing a business plan, writing a business plan, and designing a bookstore, and now, for the first time I was looking at the foundations of that project. This cubicle, this closet, this wardrobe was the foundation of CommuniTea Books.
Bookstores across the country continued to close. A few stayed open, the lucky few, the few that had been known, and remembered for years: Shakespeare & Company, The Strand, Powell’s, Changing Hands, Tattered Cover, Sam Weller’s, Moe’s, Books Inc., City Lights, Booked Up, Book Soup, Elliot Bay, Joseph-Beth, Book People, and a few others. The Kindle sold out, in 2007, within five-and-a-half hours. And everybody knew that books, that real, hardcopy, printed books were a thing of the past. Everybody knew that it was just a matter of time. Because, the eReader is, in fact, a better way to both store, and read books. Some eReader’s struggled with the lighting, the screen would hurt people’s eyes if they looked at it too long, and there were some that couldn’t look at it all. eReader designers designed, and redesigned, and they continue to. And, it was cheaper. A hardback book would cost you anywhere between $23 and $30 but the same book, as an eBook would only cost you $4-5. Until publishers got wise, and realized that the author wasn’t getting their due, and the eBook prices were raised. Maybe that was the issue… perhaps if publishers released books as eBooks but at the same price as print right off the bat people wouldn’t have complained, or had an issue with it, or maybe the pricing of the books didn’t have anything to with it at all, because, people did, after all, return to buying a cloth book for $30.
I had the opportunity after three months in the closet to relocate Wardrobe Books into a larger room, on the same floor, in the same building, and just around the corner. I still had dozens and dozens of boxes sitting at home. So I bought more cinder block, and I cut more plywood, and I hauled the cinder block, two at a time, up the stairs, followed by the plywood shelves, and I built more, and longer shelves. I browsed the boxes of books I had for right titles, because I still wouldn’t have enough room for all my books even in this larger space. And then I organized, and I alphabetized and put em’ all on the shelf. And I would look at the store, and how I was starting to see my vision of CommuniTea Books come into focus. I gave tea away. I had an electric hot pot that boiled water, I put out varying types of teas, and paper cups, and lids, and I watched as people browsed, and enjoyed themselves. Girls would come in! One, I remember, in particular, as she walked up the stairs I knew that she was headed to CommuniTea Books—because there were other vendors upstairs after all—she was fairly small, with short dark hair. I asked her if I could help with anything, and she asked for some book recommendations. Somewhere in the conversation I found the opportunity to, you know, brag-a-little, “This is my shop.” I said. “I know.” She responded. I’d never seen this girl before, but she knew me because of Wardrobe Books. It was then that I realized that I AM Wardrobe Books, I AM CommuniTea Books, and it was an interesting, and enlightening moment, as well as another proud moment.
And then something happened that nobody expected. Book sales began to rise, while eBook sales leveled off. Stanford University did I study, shortly after, and they found that without reason people started buying both eBooks and print, and by that I mean that they would buy the same title in both formats. What would encourage someone to do that, if not for the sake of touching a book, of visiting a bookstore? Within two years print books were outselling eBooks! And that made no sense, to anyone. Publishers started printing large quantities of books again, and what we saw, especially in 2012 was a massive resurgence of bookstores—of used bookstores. Throughout the United States Independently owned bookstores started opening up again, and like clock-work, every year print books experienced an increase in sales, eBooks had leveled off, and used bookstores were continuing to pop-up. The consumer, the people, they refused to let books go. And within a matter a few short years the market began to reflect that. Texas, for one reason or another, has remained behind the curve on that fact, don’t ask me why. Texan’s are buying books, but people have not yet accepted that used bookstores are reemerging. Perhaps it’s because Half Price Books has always been there, maybe Texas never actually experienced the fall, at least practically. Because intellectually, conversationally, Texan’s have distanced themselves from certain seemingly outdated industry’s while simultaneously grasping desperately on to others. How are we, really, to explain the behaviors of people?
I had just began the process of relocated Wardrobe Books for the second time when I got word that the building was being sold, or that it had been sold (Nobody really knew), and everybody was starting to panic, there was tension, and you could feel it in the air. The vendors were asked to leave before I had the opportunity to make the move directly, but in some ways it worked out better because the process became much more exhausting, and longer than I had expected. I was maintaining Wardrobe Books on my own, while I was trying to expand, to develop, to relocate, so, though the process has been long, it was a blessing in disguise. Now I look around my house, and read the comments and messages on my posts, and I feel proud that I created something that people enjoy, something that brings people together, and something that, in some ways, reconnects us to our roots.
I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.