Monday, June 18, 2007

Vox Pop and the Rebel Bookseller

Andrew Laties' Rebel Bookseller is the first book I've seen on bookselling in a long time. When I was opening my store the only book available was "The Manual on Bookselling" offered by the ABA which was completely useless. It is a compilation of essays that offered no real assistance to the realities of the industry. Rebel Bookseller is one hell of a book. I thought I was radical, I hold nothing on Andrew Laties. He preaches an approach for independent booksellers that, well, stunned me. Upon thinking about it, I think the dude is right on point with just about everything.

From the Rebel Bookseller blog post:
"Attacking vs. Being Attacked, and The Causes Of Reading's Decline" —

My argument -- which I probably do not make clearly enough -- is that the lost customers can be captured back from the big corporations ... It may be -- and it IS -- depressing that the "indigenous" independent restaurants or other local businesses -- the longtime existent family firms -- do get smashed, in marketplace after marketplace. It's horrible. But this does NOT prove that the trend toward concentration is irreversible. It simply means that it is the task of another generation to recapture the market from the imperial corporations. I use the word "imperial" in order to highlight the analogy between colonization and chainstore growth. Decolonization DOES happen. Local autonomy CAN be restored. It's a historical process. It's called revolution, or, rebellion ...

Vox Pop is one of the latest bookstores that Andrew Laties has been involved in creating. It's here in Brooklyn so I took some time to go visit it last week. I was impressed. Although the book offerings were slim, the vibe was strong. Actually, it was kick ass. I felt like I was in the presence of the future of bookselling. This small, feisty storefront combines a cafe into the space and offers self-publishing services to anyone who is willing to pay for the printing, music & reading events, and fair trade coffee from Equal Exchange. Hummm, sounds familiar

The gentrification building around the store is evident, though. A Connecticut Muffin is in the process of construction next door and a number of other new looking cafes are near the store in this working-class, racially mixed neighborhood. It is always the way, the little guy does all the creative market building and the chains ride on our coat tales reaping the value of our hard work. Gentrification is one of the major challenges for independent "anything". There is a strong part of the American psyche today to give away their money to the chains. I think the only way to counteract this is with education — we [the merchants, the booksellers, the activists, the concerned citizens] need to somehow wake up the "sleepwalking American consumer" and turn them into informed, alert people.


Andy Laties said...

Thanks Jenn, you're so encouraging! This summer I'm going to be leading a double-life, running the store up at Eric Carle Museum in Amherst and then being in Brooklyn a couple days a week trying to revamp and revitalize the bookselling and general retail at Vox Pop. The bookselling aspect really has never been up to snuff, and I've been unable to inject myself fully into that. Now both my kids are out of high school and I'm less required around the house -- so I hope I can make a difference in the bookselling in Brooklyn. I'd love to meet you -- let's arrange that for sometime in July. It sounds like you have a lot of good ideas.

The gentrification thing is VERY intense. Vox Pop has been featured in the New York Times five times since we opened 2 1/2 years ago -- generally in the Real Estate section -- as evidence that Flatbush is "coming up" and indeed the prices of real estate have jumped. The NYT inevitably includes a quote, in these articles, from someone who says they moved to the neighborhood because of Vox Pop!!

This coming year I'm going to be doing a Masters degree at the School of International Community Economic Development, in New Hampshire, and I'm going to run some ICED project that is based at Vox Pop. I want to work with the various immigrant communities in Flatbush, I think focusing on the remittances they're sending off around the world. I'm not sure how the project will be structured, but hopefully it will help me gain some understanding of the structure of the various immigrant communities in the neighborhood, and provide a manner to engage them more in Vox Pop's operations and functioning.

jenn said...

Oh, wow! Thanks for responding! I would love to meet you and "talk shop!"

God, I love having this blog!

Andy Laties said...
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