The Local Yokel Trap of New York City
As a Brooklynite surrounded by progressives, I’m well aware of the need to “think globally and act locally” on a whole lot of matters. This persistent mantra seems particularly true when it comes to commerce, prompting those of us who heed such calls to shop (and generally pay more) at farmer’s markets and mom & pop retailers, especially those in our very own neighborhood. This is how vital local businesses can be sustained in an environment rife with soulless, big chain predators. OK. Fine. So I do my part by forking over ten bucks to a farmer for a bunch of kale and a handful of carrots, though I can’t understand why it costs more to buy the stuff direct from the guy who grew it himself. And then there was the time a Hudson Valley hipster tried to sell me a three pound chicken for $27.
“What was it,” I asked. “Raised on truffles?”
Anyway, as an author, the requirement to support independent bookstores is practically an obligation of sacred significance. The independent bookstore in my neighborhood is legendary. The place has been in business since 1981. And as a matter of great local pride, the store not only survived the opening of a Barnes & Noble two blocks away, it has thrived ever since. Like most of my neighbors, I was proud of their triumph in a David vs. Goliath way. But that was until my second novel came out in the Spring of 2012.
I envisioned the debut reading at the local independent bookstore, packed with people I’ve known for the past 15 years: friends and family, plus students and faculty from the respective colleges where I work (both within walking distance of the store). It would be time for me to reap some of the local love I’d been hearing about and practicing for so long. It would be my coming out party as an author, a home-game season opener. I wanted to pack that place. But it never happened.
My publisher balked at the idea of arranging a reading there, so I went into the store myself, explained who I was and what I had in mind. No one there seemed all that excited. I was given a name of someone to contact about the reading and another to contact about getting some books in-house. I wrote both addresses repeatedly for months. No response. I stopped by the store on numerous occasions — no one was able to help me. I was encouraged to write the same addresses again. So I did. Nothing. There was no big night for me in the home ‘hood. I had given up on the idea of local love and even grew a little cynical.
And then a funny thing happened: The book appeared in the window of the nearby Barnes & Noble. The manager, who lives in the area, got word that I was a local writer, and he checked out my book. Soon, it was not only in the front window but also on one of those high-profile tables that people actively browse. I stopped by the store to sign some copies and was treated like a semi-celebrity by the staff. Shortly after, a student of mine, who works at the store, wrote to tell me how many copies were being sold and how enthusiastically the staff recommended the book to browsers. Two years later, I still stop by the local Barnes & Noble every few weeks to sign new copies displayed on the Noteworthy Fiction table.
What a local feel-good story, courtesy of my friendly-neighborhood mega chain.
If you believe that independent businesses own the market on what it means to be “local,” I’ve got a $27 chicken to sell you.
Lead image by Woven Meadows
Andrew Cotto is the author of The Domino Effect and Outerborough Blues: A Brooklyn Mystery. He has written for numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Men’s Journal, Salon.com, the Good Men Project, and Teachers & Writers magazine. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Follow him on Twitter @andrewcotto