This is not a post where I wax nostalgic for the small independent bookstores of old. The reason for this is that I didn’t grow up in Boston or New York or Philadelphia (fine cities that they all are), or in any of the other big cities that actually supported independent bookstores back in those days. I grew up in a medium-sized small town in north Texas, about eighty miles north of where Dallas was back then — these days, it’s urban sprawl almost the whole way, covering what used to be good farmland where you could raise winter wheat and Black Angus cattle, and that’s one of the reasons I don’t go back to Texas any more. And back then, there was no independent bookstore closer than the Doubleday store in the Northpark Mall.
What we did have, in that small town, was a corner news stand, which is another thing that’s vanished with the passing years. It sold the local newspaper, and the Dallas and Fort Worth newspapers, and national papers like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor, and magazines both respectable and raffish, and cigars and cigarettes and chewing gum, and paperback books in wire spinner racks. Once a month, on the first Monday, the owner would put up the new science fiction and fantasy releases — I know it was the first Monday, because after my best friend and I had been conspicuously haunting and combing over those spinner racks in search of new stuff for several months, the owner told us so. After that, we made a point of showing up every first Monday like a two-person horde of book-hungry locusts.
I think, in retrospect, that the bookstore owner must himself have been a science fiction fan, or at least a regular reader in the genre, because he stocked all the new releases from all the houses then publishing sf and fantasy, and also stocked all the major sf magazines — F&SF, Analog, and Galaxy, in those days, plus Galaxy‘s kid sibling, If — and the four or five second-tier mags as well.
Later, of course, our town got its own shopping mall, a small one shared with the next town over, but enough to support a B. Dalton’s with a lot more shelf space for paperbacks than the corner news stand (where the sf and fantasy spinner rack had occupied a couple of square feet near the back of the store, right next to the soft-core porn.) Later still, I left Texas to live in places that actually had small independently-owned specialty bookstores catering to a variety of tastes.
But the wire racks at Triangle News, and the books I found on them — The Hobbit; A Wizard of Earthsea; The Witches of Karres; Babel-17; The Moon is a Harsh Mistress; so many of the works that made me into a reader, and later a writer, of science fiction and fantasy — remain close to my heart.