Big Bookstore Backlash in Arizona
Jan. 03, 2000
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) _ It took only a couple of weeks for the bookstore sitting just off Route 66 to earn an unflattering nickname.
Some residents have taken to calling the new Barnes & Noble store the ``ashtray'' because of a turret-like structure jutting from the roof. But the name-calling goes beyond aesthetic concerns.
Like many across the country, some people here see the presence of a Barnes & Noble or any national chain in their town as a threat small-town atmosphere.
``No one wants to go there,'' said John Alexander, 19, a Northern Arizona University student born and raised in this former railroad and lumber town.
Residents actually began complaining before the 20,000 square-foot store opened the day before Thanksgiving. One of their chief concerns was that a megastore stocking the equivalent of one book for each of the city's 60,000 residents will snuff out local booksellers.
``I am a local business owner and I want to support my neighbors,'' said Katie Harris as she bought a book at McGaugh's Newsstand, an institution since the 1950's. ``I think shopping locally promotes community.''
Simultaneously historic, scenic and tacky, Flagstaff holds the hearts of many of its residents.
A stopping point for many trekking north to the Grand Canyon or cutting across Arizona, Flagstaff's main drag is a hodgepodge of gas stations, motels, restaurants and a visual overload of signs.
It also features an almost hidden downtown of historic brick buildings housing restaurants, cafes and shops offering American Indian art and kitschy Route 66 souvenirs.
The Barnes & Noble sits against a backdrop of pine-covered hills and looms over its nearest neighbors, Dairy Queen and Crystal Inn.
``I'd rather keep supporting stores that have always been a part of the community,'' said Alexander, whose loyalty lies with stores like McGaugh's where he remembers buying popcorn and comic books as a kid.
Barnes & Noble spokesman John Harden, also a Flagstaff resident, said that his store may be new, but it's committed to the community.
A percentage of proceeds from a pre-opening sale benefitted a reading program for at-risk children and other outreach projects are being planned, he said.
A few protesters spend ``maybe an hour a day'' outside, he said. ``But the parking lot is always full.''
Unlike many residents, independent booksellers say they aren't too concerned about their new giant neighbor.
``We're not competing with them. We're a newsstand, not a bookstore,'' said Lillian Osthoff, who has been general manager of McGaugh's since 1978 and knows most of her customers by name.
The tiny store _ roughly 10 times smaller than Barnes & Noble _ makes the most of its limited space, stocking 4,000 magazine titles, books, snacks and even cigars.
``People come in for a quick pack of cigarettes or a candy bar _ sometimes it's a toothbrush or a razor,'' Osthoff said from behind a counter displaying items from corncob pipes to horoscopes.
Rather than bash her competition, Osthoff said she prefers to emphasize the positive. She and a friend have printed bumper stickers with the slogan: ``SLOB: Support Locally Owned Businesses.''
One bookstore owner says he has seen the bookstore business from both big and small perspectives.
After working for a large book chain, Evan Midling now co-owns Starlight Books, a two-room store with a worn, lived-in feel. The front door sticks and customers worry about opening it too loudly.
Nearly all of Midling's inventory is used _ and he said he plans to keep it that way.
``There's so much competition in new books that it's not going to serve us very well to compete head to head with places like Barnes & Noble,'' he said.