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Remembrance of video stores past

There were many people who sighed in relief when the video shops shut down. My husband was one of them. He hated spending so much time browsing the shelves – time that could have been spent watching movies.

I loved it. I would slowly walk down each aisle (moving swiftly past the horror movies), reminiscing about the movies I had seen in the past. There were the goofy family comedies I had seen as a kid (National Lampoons, Police Academy), the ground breaking modern classics (The Shawshank Redemption, Dead Man Walking, Philadelphia) and the teen cult movies (Stand By Me, The Goonies).

And who knew when you would discover a movie that you’d always wanted to watch, but had forgotten about? It was with an irresistible combination of nostalgia and hope that I perused the shelves of my local video rental store.

It is not unlike the feeling of strolling along the shelves of a book shop or library. For these places are for more than just somewhere to get a book – they are also repositories of memory – of books that changed us (To Kill a Mockingbird) and others that moved us (A Fine Balance). Some that educated us (Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret) and others that made us laugh (anything by Bill Bryson).

With the arrival of Amazon in Australia, and the existing presence of Booktopia and other online booksellers, it is not hard to imagine a time bookshops went the way of video shops. Concerns about the arrival of Amazon in Australia were aired widely in the media last week.

The managing director of Readings, an iconic Melbourne bookstores, spoke out about the threat to local jobs, culture and community posed by Amazon.

In an article in The Guardian, Mr Rubbo wrote of the role that bookshops could have in their communities. He encouraged book buyers to think before they purchased.

“Bookshops – and all the shops that come together to make up our communities, to entice us away from our screens and into communal spaces – can’t exist without our customers. Where you shop is of course entirely your choice, but it’s important to really make that choice a conscious one,” he wrote.

However, regardless of ideals and good intentions, it can be hard to stomach a significant price differential, when the product is the same. That is, unless we consider the entire experience of visiting bookstores to be of value. And for me, I would have to say it mostly is. Would I pay a couple of extra dollars for the existence of those aisles and their unique calm and connection with my past?  I think I would. I am willing to pay for lesser experiences or services, so why not this? To scroll through pages of book covers is a poor substitute for the smell, the feel and the presence of real books. And perhaps, like is the case for holidays, when the planning and anticipation can make you happier than actually taking it, selecting  a video or book can be a significant part of the experience. Here, regardless of whether we enjoy the book or movie or not, we can still get a buzz from the anticipation.

Sometimes, the things that give us real pleasure, are unrecognised until they are gone. While we’ll eat away at our mortgage savings with an elaborate breakfast that is satisfying, but fleeting, we’re sometimes reluctant to see the value of other moments rare quiet and happiness, lost in thought or memory, that places like bookshops provide us. In a rational world, it is tempting to only see the price tag.

Perhaps there is some middle ground, where the convenience and speed of online shopping can coexist with the slower experience of physical bookshops and libraries. I won’t kid myself that there won’t be times when it is simply easier and cheaper to buy online, but when I have the time and opportunity, I will visit a bookshop, not just for the purchase, but also for the pleasure and investment in this community asset into the future.

I miss video shops, but it would be a whole lot worse if bookshops went the same way.

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