Oops, I made a mistake.
Remember about 10 years ago, upon the shuttering – by misguided moralists – of the much-mourned 14 Karat Dinner Theater?
In my eulogy, I wrote that every time a strip club closes, an angel loses its wings.
What I meant to say is that every time a bookstore closes, an angel veers off the side of the road and almost smashes into a bus stop.
That, leastways, is what happened to me last week upon discovering that Nice Price Books has been replaced by a pizza joint. Not just any pizza joint, either, but one representing a national chain that I’ve been boycotting for four years, ever since its obnoxious multimillionaire owner threw a hissy fit during the 2012 presidential election and threatened to fire thousands of workers if he had to pay health care – despite a 25 percent increase in profits over the previous year.
The News & Observer ran a story in May that the bookstore, an anchor that added some funk to a formerly funky part of town, was closing. Being forewarned, though, did not lessen the jarring emotional impact of driving past and seeing, on the former site of that monument to intellectual curiosity and literacy, a pizza joint – that pizza joint.
As the great philosopher Charlie Brown screamed each time Lucy would move the football, “UGH!!!”
That’s what it felt like – that somebody had moved our football. Nevermore would passersby see that neon sign with the bookstore’s name on it beckoning them to come, browse and buy. For the literature-starved, that sign was every bit as enticing as the red “Hot Now” sign at Krispy Kreme was for the doughnut-starved.
Speaking of angels and doughnuts, what is heaven if not a dozen hot, glazed doughnuts and a good book that you own – so if you get any glaze on the pages you don’t have to answer a librarian’s wary “What’s this sticky stuff on the pages?”
Barry Blanchette, who owned the store with his wife, Cindy Kamaroff, assured me that I wasn’t the only person to mourn his decision to pack up his Goethes, Steinbecks and Bucks and close the store.
A lot of people were troubled by it. People miss us.
Barry Blanchette, who closed Nice Price Books in Durham in May
“A lot of people were troubled by it,” he said of the closing, because over the 15 years in that spot he’d developed relationships with Duke students and others. “People miss us.”
Yes, we do. When I told Blanchette that one of the things I loved about the store was that you could call and ask whether they had a book and somebody would spend as much time as needed to find out if they had it, he said, “That’s one of the ways we stayed in business, by attending to customers’ needs.”
Once, a clerk hunted for “Catch-22” so long for me that I thought he’d forgotten me, so I hung up. He called me back and said the book wasn’t where it was supposed to be but he thought he’d seen it someplace else and thus kept looking to see if it had been misplaced.
Man, I appreciated that.
Blanchette assured me – and I asked twice – that the international pizza conglomerate had not gobbled him up and forced him to vacate the premises.
“Oh, no. It wasn’t forced on me,” Blanchette said of his decision. “I’ve been in business in the Triangle for about 29 years. ... As I’m old, my parents are even older, and when I retired from the book business, I retired to take care of my parents.”
Once he reached the final chapter, though, his transition was made easier because of the store’s prime location. He’s leasing the spot, he corrected me, not selling it, and the cheese he’s getting from the pizza owner “is what’s going to fund my peanut butter sandwiches” while he figures out what, if anything, he wants to do next.
“They loved the lot,” Blanchette said of the politically partisan pizza pie purveyors who’ll be the new proprietors.
Blanchette said one of the things he misses about the store “is access to a really literate community that can come in and tell you about stuff you might not know is out there. I’ve got to confess, it’s been hard to make that transition as a civilian book buyer because I don’t have access to those readers, and now I’m stuck with the New York Times Review of Books and two or three friends.”
There are at least two terrific bookstores within hollerin’ distance of where Nice Price Books was – Books Do Furnish A Room and The Regulator. I still think Bull City bibliophiles such as I are left bereft and brokenhearted whenever a bookstore closes.
Now that he is out of the book business, Blanchette said, “I’m going to vary my life between taking care of my aging parents and bicycle touring. ... I ride everywhere.”
Cool, but he’d better watch out when riding on Broad Street. Some angel might lose control and veer off the road when biking past his former shop.