A Word From The Next Chapter

First, I must introduce myself. My name is Vicky Panzich, and I am one of the whiners that Bob Dunning took to task in his last Sunday column. I am one of the retailers who views the arrival of a Borders superstore at the Aggie Villa development as, well, a bad thing. Dunning made a startling comparison in his diatribe; he believes that the superstores competing with independent stores in Davis would be like Shell and Chevron duking it out for the market. This is a truly bizarre notion, and I'll try to explain why this is so:
  1. Independent bookstores, in general, and we at The Next Chapter, in particular, do not have over 1,000 stores dotted across the landscape. We have one store that we've nurtured along for the last 10 years.

  2. The head of our store is not a CEO who lives in a mansion (my husband, John, and I rent), nor are we paid enormous salaries for doing such things as locating existing markets (usually where there are successful independents), moving huge megastores into those areas, and killing all competition.

  3. We try to hire employees who have some knowledge of books ... we try to create an environment for them that makes it a pleasure to come to work ... and, hardest of all, we try to pay them a liveable wage. Both John and I have worked for chains -- they do none of these things. As a manager of a chain store, I had to fight for each 10 cent per hour raise I wanted to give an employee. We worked in a stifling environment where the placement of every book was dictated by thre home office and local interest books were ignored.

  4. The biggest and most basic difference between independents and chains, as Rod Steiger and I see it, is that independents have something more in mind with their business than just profit. Each time I get discouraged about our financial situation, someone comes by to let us know that they appreciate our being here and that what we are trying to do is important to them. Not only do they let us know with their kind words, but many of our friends and family have put their money on the line to help us avoid bounced checks and big men who break legs. The something more that we have in mind involves selling a commodity with value (in many cases, more value than it retails for). We don't equate our products (books) with soap. We also try to safeguard the authors' rights to say and write what they want. Chains have a history of backing out on this trust. As soon as Rushdie's fatwa was issued, the chains pulled "Satanic Verses" off the shelves. More recently, Michael Moore's "Downsize This" tour was interrupted and some speaking engagements cancelled by Borders because they didn't like what he had to say. Independents, generally, fight to keep books and ideas accessible for those who want them.

Have I made my point? We independents are not chains, nor do we aspire to be. To suggest that we should welcome them as competition or to say that they are good for a community is ridiculous. We have been competing for the book dollar in Davis for 10 years, but we have been compeitng with outher independents or small chains on a level playing field. Superstores receive favorable and incidentally, illegal treatment from publishers and distributors all the time -- they also have unending sources of money to allow them to stay on the scene until they have eliminated all competition. We do not. Dunning's advice to us -- to get better -- is good advice. We have taken it as marching orders since we started our business and will continue to do so until we feel that we can't compete -- that will happen when a superstore moves into Davis. Couldn't we (or I should say, the developer) acknowledge that Davis has an abundance of bookstores and that the arrival of a predatory superstore would signal the demise of at least some of them? Couldn't we acknowledge that we need other types of retail in town? Bringing Borders to Davis is not going to create the competition of Chevron and Shell; it is bringing coals to Newcastle.
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