Tuesday, February 15, 2011

So long to an old friend

I went to Bob Slate's Porter Square store last weekend. As some of you may know, the 78-year-old stationer is closing all three of its doors in March. When I heard this news a week ago it genuinely ruined my day. Many, many others feel the same. There were, and still are, numerous postings of grief and shock and dismay on Facebook, Twitter and in the comments of articles about the closings. How could this be? Why? But...they've always been there! They should be there forever! I love Bob Slate! What about the people losing their jobs? Why why why??

I went to their store on Saturday in part to buy pens (I have a major obsession) and office supplies and the fun little things that one stumbles across in a store like that. I wanted to feel, one last time, that fun Bob Slate feeling I've gotten for years when stepping into any one of their stores. The pens, my god the pens! They've always been a perfect source of retail therapy for me. And where else can you get a single small binder clip or tag sale price tags by the dozen?

I also went last week to be there with other people who were no doubt feeling the same way I did. It was like going to a wake. The place was packed and I had a couple of conversations with people about how sad we were to see them go. One woman, who had just found out the news that very minute, was on her cell phone telling a friend how shocked and upset she was.

As I browsed around I wondered about what it is that makes us feel so tied to certain stores. When you get right down to it, a store is where you buy things you need or want and then you go home. But there are certain ones that are institutions, pillars of the community. I consider Booksmith to be one of those stores, which is why the closing of Bob Slate is really hitting home. (Besides the fact that my number one source of pens will be no more.) We don't necessarily feel this way about Shaws grocery store or Walgreens. But is that because they are chains or not apparently family owned? Is it the stuff (things you love, things you love to give as gifts) that they sell or the staff? The mood the store gives you when you walk in? Colors? Music? I guess I'm heading into sociological territory a bit, and I don't have any answers to these questions. (There are books for that!) But the closing of my favorite stores feels like a personal loss. It seems weird but it's true. I still feel lingering feelings of loss over Woolworth's and that was maybe 10 years ago! Alternatively, if CVS were to close, I'd be greatly inconvenienced but not sad.

As we at Brookline Booksmith celebrate FIFTY years of business this year, I think of Bob Slate and their 78 years. I'm very sad they are going, I am very glad we are still going strong. I wonder who is opening a store right now, this month, that will turn out to be another community gem for decades. There's got to be one somewhere, right?

And good luck to all the staff at Bob Slate. You'll be missed!

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