Yet More Independent Bookstores Close Down:

First, the press release from the bookstore itself:

SEPTEMBER 30, 2008

Olsson Enterprises, Inc., trading as Olsson’s Books & Records closes stores and petitions court for Chapter 7 conversion.

Olsson Enterprises, Inc., trading as Olsson’s Books & Records, Record & Tape Ltd., and Olsson’s Books announced today that it has closed all of its locations and petitioned the U.S. Bankruptcy Court District of Maryland for conversion of its current Chapter 11 protection to Chapter 7.

The reasons given for the petitioning were stagnant sales, low cash reserves, and an inability to renegotiate current leases, along with a continuing weak retail economy and plummeting music sales.

Olsson’s was granted Chapter 11 protection on July 11 this year in order to work on an aggressive reorganization plan involving selected store closings and large cuts in overhead costs. At the same time the Lansburgh/ Penn Quarter location on 7th Street, N.W. was shuttered to make way for a new London-based restaurant.

Olsson’s was established in 1972 and grew to as many as nine retail stores in the Washington, D.C. metro area with sales over $16 million a year and as many as 200 employees. Currently there are five retail stores: Reagan National Airport, Old Town Alexandria, Arlington Courthouse, Crystal City, and one in Northwest Washington at Dupont Circle. Olsson’s earned its reputation as a locally-owned community-oriented retailer with a knowledgeable staff selling a wide selection of books, music, video and gifts.

Stephen Wallace-Haines, Olsson’s general manager stated: “In the end, all the roads towards reorganization led to this dead end: we did not have the money required to pay for product in advance, to collect reserves to buy for Christmas, and satisfy the demands of rent and operational costs. We were losing money just by staying open.”

John Olsson, principal owner, Washington native and graduate of Catholic University had this to say, “Although it is certainly a sad day for us, I can rejoice in all the great memories of my life in retail in Washington. I began at Discount Record Shop on Connecticut Avenue in the fall of 1958, and worked there until 1972 when I left to open my own record store at 1900 L Street. Along the way books were added, more locations, a couple thousand employees, and many thousands of customers. It was exhilarating. Through it all, our best and brightest served Washington’s best and brightest with love and distinction. I’m very proud of what we accomplished. My love and gratitude to all my employees, and special thanks to all those thousands of loyal customers.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I only went there once, with a friend who had recently published a book on Danny Gatton. It was amazing, seeing how deeply some people had appreciated him – one guy paid for our dinner and recorded some CDs for Ralph. Another thing, it was interesting to see a store that had dedicated space for not only music and books, but with the idea that people would be buying good stuff instead of what’s popular.

But then, this isn’t the first worthy bookstore to die due to the smoothing out of tastes that I’d fallen in love with.

First was a bookstore named Jocundry’s. I had hung out there during much of the eighties, finally started buying stuff from there in the early nineties only to see it go out of business. There were a couple of circumstances that caused that bookstore trouble: An owner who inhereted the bookstore but not the vision, overdone expansion without foresight (should have expanded into music, opened a coffeehouse) and the sudden invasion of a chain store down the road. Unfortunately Jocundry’s lasted long enough to make me start buying at the Barnes & IgNoble.

More recently Transitions went out of business. They had made themselves a niche in the New Age/Alternate Religions section. I went there only a few times, but I loved the place whenever I went. Sadly I hadn’t visited there the past few years, and had to find out of its closing via the lame news article linked to above.

It’s actually kind of sad. Nowadays you go into these big mega-stores, and you see a shrinking selection of music in what’s quickly becoming more of an accident in these stores (as compared to a section or an afterthought). Selections seem more and more based on what sells instead of what my peak interest; that means more chick-lit and modern “romances” (of the Harliquen kind, updated for the imaginations of sex-driven adults) and lame “You Can Do Anything You Want If You Only Put Your MIND To It” type of books. Then there’s the spewin’ partisan politics books meant to sell millions to the converted, teen lit (more teen girl lit) and rewrites of “The Secret.”

And, of course, if you want something that strays from the generica, go to Of course, you’ll end up having to develop these tastes by yourself (and the B&IgN/Borders chains grow more generic as the interesting requests go to, but that’s your problem).

That’s why I try to buy local more and more. Even when I’m not in town, I’ll try to buy local. That way I know my PROFITS go locally and support local stuff. I’ve even supported local music and poetry scenes with my dollars in the past. And if you MUST buy at the B&N and Borders (which is not necessarily a bad thing, as these bookstores have brought bookstores to many places which were lacking), make sure they do your special orders (instead of That way they’ll have to expand their selection of books for the browsers, and who knows…you may open some minds to your way of thinking.


3 thoughts on “Yet More Independent Bookstores Close Down:

  1. Independent bookstores are the last bastion of good writing and the notion of buying my books at some corporate outlet makes me queasy. Sorry to hear about this, bibliophiles everywhere are grieving…

  2. What hurts even more when this kind of thing happens is the continued shrinking of a community bound together (however loosely) by love of the same things — sure, it’s moving into cyberpsace, yakity-yakity-yada, but that’s less personal than hanging out in your book or used record store, debating the merits/demerits of a particular item, and just taking in the atmosphere. What’s even sadder is that the great majority are allowing this to happen for the sake of getting something at “X percent off” — deep discounting is the virus embedded in alternative culture, and unless somebody figures how to deal with it, the roll call of dying spaces will only continue to grow.

  3. Why independent bookstores are closing:

    1. Lack of expendable income. Books are expensive. Most people do not have 20 bucks or even 12 bucks to spend on a book anymore.

    2. The Dumbing down of American culture. The number of readers in American society has become less and less. Ever see some of those surveys, that say reading is rapidly declining? We are becoming a nation of illiterates who could care less.

    3. I believe trends in publishing themself have led to the diminishment of book buying. There is definitely a class difference in fiction and other books, where the average person’s experience in America is not talked about or discussed. Social connections lead to publishing more often then not. The working class is basically totally invisible in American fiction books nowadays while in decades past there was Willa Cather and others who protrayed real life as it was. Fiction has become almost unreadable to the average person.

    There also is the formulaic, where just bad books got published, and genres became so defined all creativity was squashed.

    I am finding myself having to go the past to find anything of the fiction genre worth reading. The only fiction author I find readable presently is Joyce Carol Oates.

    4. I know people personally who havent read a book in YEARS, this includes family members and several others. I read about 10 books a week, so this way of life is astounding to me, but I have realized there is far more of them and less of me.

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