Is the internet a "third place?" This question comes to mind as we deal with the news that a popular independent booksite called Goodreads has just been acquired by Amazon, meaning that what used to be a good source of unbiased reviews and book enthusiasm - a sort of online community - is now controlled by a corporate entity that has no stake at all in the quality of its users' lives and whose goals include putting local stores like ours out of business.
I hear frequently from our loyal customers how much they appreciate the ability to browse real books in our real store and this is always music to my ears. Some wonderful folks are even using online resources to track down the titles that they then come and buy at our store. They understand that the heart of the battle of the independents vs. the evil empire is nothing less than what kind of world we want to create for ourselves and our children.
But lots more happens at BookPeople than simply browsing real books. Yes, we do have real books. Beautiful ones, chosen with care. But we also have real people working here who will really listen to what you say. We have real people reading books for storytime for real tiny children. We have real students defending their MFA theses right here in our store, in front of real professors. We have groups of developmentally disabled people who visit our store regularly to simply sit and enjoy books and to say hello to us. We have parents who have a chance to socialize here and escape those feelings of isolation brought on by the demands of parenting young children. We have a group of old geezers (that's what they call themselves) who gather for conversation several mornings a week and who kindly share their leftover pastries with us. We have incredible art for sale and to enjoy that has been created by real artists from right here.
Every day people share a laugh here at our store, catch up on the news, make a new friend, connect with old friends, learn something new, and discover a new reason for living, face to face, in a way that simply can't be replicated online...think about that next time you decide where to shop. The essentialness of third places (home is first, work/school/church is second, and community gathering places like coffee shops and bookstores are third) in our lives has been proven time and time again. I could cite some academic studies here in support of my point but I'd rather just refer you to the theme song from one of my favorite television shows ever, "Cheers," that declares "you wanna be where everybody knows your name." Without these places life is an unrelenting, impersonal, and unbearable grind. It is time to admit it: the internet is NOT a third place. It will never be a third place. It is at best a distant fourth place. We need to invest ourselves and our dollars in the places where we really live, so that they remain good places to live, forever.