by Pat Holt

Friday, January 22, 1999


Everybody knew how the Capitola Planning Commission would vote last night, but the 5-hour hearing on a new Borders store in this charming coastline village was still a heartbreaker.

From 7 p.m. to midnight, independent booksellers, business owners, merchants, teachers, writers and many, many townspeople took to the microphone in a packed auditorium to deliver impassioned pleas against the "intrusion" of Borders and its devastating effect-to-come on at least four existing independent bookstores.

That the commissioners felt legally bound to approve the use permit in a shopping development that had already been given the go-ahead was a known fact. After they voted 5-0 to approve Borders' permit, the real hope - in fact, the last hope - was switched to the City Council's hearing on the subject February 11.

But much could be learned from the Planning Commission meeting last night. Once again, Borders representatives arrived with all sorts of promises to stock thousands of regional titles, support community ties and give lots of money to "local charities." (Hey Borders! Independents NEVER use the word "charity" when they talk about donating money to groups of people they KNOW.)

One commissioner knew better, noting that the average Borders store donates about $1800 a year to local groups, a pretty small amount for the store's size, she said. Even the tiny Seeds of Change, the local children's bookstore, donated much more than $1800 a year, according to the owners, and their store has never made the income that a Border's children's department pulls in annually.

Over and over, language was used that indicated a chain store backlash may be emerging. Townspeople stated repeatedly they are sick to death of "big box stores," "chain stores" and "superstores" owned and managed elsewhere arriving in their community to "loot" the customers of established independent retailers.

This is the continued irony that independent bookstores must face: America has been lulled into numbed acceptance of chain store supermarkets and department stores before waking up to the damage that hardware, drug, juice, garden, yogurt, office and variety chain stores have wrought on the local scene.

Now, just when people have "had it to here with chain stores," who is left to fight the battle? Independent bookstores with their limited means and their declining numbers. They need help just to stay in the fight. They need financial, legal, political and tactical support as every new threat rises, or the whole thing - that delicate but absolutely crucial bridge between unknown authors and readers hungry for literary experience - is going to blow.