Saturday, September 17, 2011

A New Book Barn in Clovis

There is a certain gravitas about a bookstore going out of business. Never mind the ones that are mismanaged. In Fresno we have other things to worry about. You see, a few years ago our humble town was ranked as the dumbest city in America. Several criteria were used to determine this ranking such as the number of college graduates, advanced degrees, graduate programs, etc. But one of the criteria was the number of bookstores and the number of books purchased.

So when Border’s (in Fresno) announced recently that it was going out of business, some of us took the news with a wince. I do admit that it was nice buying books at the going-out-of-business sale that lasted several weeks. I picked up John Farrell’s recent biography of Clarence Darrow for a song and a few other titles for even less. This week, however, the sale is over and the old store is dark and empty.

Of course we still have places to buy books. Barnes & Noble Booksellers across the street has always been a better bookstore anyway. It’s just that I keep thinking to myself that this will only confirm, at least in the minds of some, Fresno’s position at the bottom of the list – or shall we say at the top of the list – of the dumbest places to live.

So it was with a real sense of relief and pleasure that I discovered the opening of a new bookstore, not in Fresno this time but on the other side of town, in Clovis actually.

You may remember A Book Barn located on 5th Street. It was a small used bookstore with about 1,200 square feet of floor space and with between 22,000 and 25,000 volumes for sale. Well, the owners (Dan and Peggy Dunklee) have moved around the block to 640 Clovis Ave. They now have 8,000 square feet of floor space (on 2 floors) and have over 80,000 volumes for sale, with room for another 70,000.

Last week I drove to the old store (which I visit every few months) along 5th Street and couldn’t figure out why I was so disoriented. The “bookstore” sign was gone and so I had to park my truck and walk the storefronts looking for the old volumes in the window. Sadly there weren’t any. All I found was a poster-board sign and I feared that we were losing yet another bookstore. Thankfully I was wrong. There was nothing there about going out of business, only directions to the new place.

And when I walked into the new building I knew that something good had just happened to Clovis. Besides the space, there is much more lighting than in the old store and one can’t help but look up and about at all the books. And there is even a reading corner with comfortable furnishings on the second floor. There is now enough room for stacking shelves with the non-obvious volumes that make treasure seeking plausible – volumes that otherwise molder in backroom boxes and storage sheds.

I chatted with one young man who was busy stacking shelves and complimented him on the store. I didn’t have to convince him that he was doing a good thing. And I didn’t have to tell him that a good used bookstore is so much more fun than the purveyors of recently published vulgarities.

I don't mean to downplay the big book dealers. I buy their books – probably more than I should. But I never get as excited about one of their debuts as I am about our own new used bookstore. I know it isn’t easy to make a living in used books – no matter how big the business. And these are difficult economic times. But here is a new opportunity for Fresno. All it takes to thrive is for a few more of us to stop by and patronize this worthy cause on a regular basis. It means that we need to improve our reading habits.

But Dan and Peggy are making it easy. They have extended store hours (9-7, Monday -Saturday; 11-5, Sunday) and Dan told me that he plans on having community events like poetry readings and book clubs. With luck they may even help us claw our way out of the rankings we’ve fallen into. Or better yet, they may help you find the perfect book to read. I found several.

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