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“It’s a story of survival. A lot of towns the size of Santa Cruz at one time had bookstores, but too many have fallen away.” - WALLACE BAINE <20 was a spiritual, emotional place. He felt the same way about Hawaii. He was heir to that kind of wide-openspaces type thinking.
What are your impressions of Neal Coonerty, Bookshop’s steadfast owner and champion through earthquakes and big box rivals. He helped make independent bookstores political animals. Neal was always interested in politics and he liked to come out swinging. He went into city politics because of the earthquake, feeling the need to serve, plus he saw himself as the best intermediary between merchants and progressive university types. That manifested in his business battles with Super Crown and Borders. Some people felt he was insisting they spend their money in a certain way, and they blanched at that. Of course, he was making a larger point about local business and chains and the character of the town. Most people got it, but it did divide people. In taking over the store, how has Neal’s daughter Casey shifted that conversation? Casey’s different than Neal. She’d tell you she’s less of a risk taker and more like her mother Candy. Also, the store itself is in a different situation. Neal didn’t have to deal with Amazon and the current retail environment. It was Casey who had to bring Bookshop into the new era, and she did that by trying to make it a destination for people who love books, providing services, outreach, events, and selling other stuff. She’s a brainstormer.
Independent bookstores have had a brief respite from their political role in the larger culture, but with the recent election they could play one again. What do you think that role might look like? I can only speak about Santa Cruz, but I think a lot of people here who are upset about the election are Bookshop’s clientele— not uniformly, but largely. The outcome doesn’t only represent the election of right-wing politics, even though that’s what everyone is talking about. It also represents the ascendency of an indifference to books. The president we have now is a writer and a good one, but we’re going to have a president who I don’t even think reads as a habit. So the value of books in people’s lives is going to be thrown into more stark relief because Trump is going to be, if not hostile, at least indifferent to whether books live or die. The role that bookstores can play has to do with the truth. Whether it’s through websites claiming to be news sites that aren’t, or big networks, we’re being inundated with lies. You can go into Bookshop and find lies, too, if you know where to look, but bookstores are ultimately about the truth. Somebody needs to speak up for it, and journalism isn’t doing it, so who are the defenders of what is true? It might have to be the publishing world. Maybe they’ll step up in the next four years and try to mitigate the damage. Maybe they can convince people that to find the truth you need to turn to different sources.