Tuscaloosa has two bookstores: Books-A-Million and (only recently with the opening of the new midtown mall) Barnes & Noble. There are of course several "bookstores" on the various campuses (University of Alabama, Shelton State Community College, Stillman College) selling textbooks, but no independent bookstores (except for the Christian Bookstore on McFarland Boulevard).
A couple of years ago, as the midtown mall was being built, our newspaper (The Tuscaloosa News) ran an anonymous letter in the "Sound Off" section (which I read for laughs every morning - it is better than the comics) where a reader complained that we did not need a new mall because we already had one, we did not need Barnes & Noble because we already had Books-A-Million, didn't need Best Buy (which was slated at the time to open in the new mall) because we already had Circuit City. They went on and on...you get the picture. I remember thinking at the time of the adage "better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt" (attributed at times to Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain and Albert Einstein). Competition is a good thing, and more retail choices will only make our growing city a better place.
Fast forward to yesterday. Our new cookbooks were delivered on Friday. Nine hundred and fifty-three of them. And they look great! Sunday, my first day off, I marched into Barnes and Noble to show the book to the manager. I had spoken with him a few months ago (also on a Sunday) and he had some very helpful suggestions about how the book should be put together (mainly getting an ISBN number and bar code so the book could be scanned, and perfect binding so the book would not "disappear" on the shelf). It was Sunday but he was on the floor working the customer service booth. He was excited to see it and offered to help us get it placed in his store. I could not have been more satisfied with the personal treatment, especially since Barnes & Noble is the nation's top bookseller.
Then I went down the street to Books-A-Million. I went there because I did not want to put all my eggs in one basket. The store was messy, dusty and almost empty. The only visible employee was a lone cashier. I asked him if I could speak with the manager, whom he called out to the floor. I introduced myself, told him about the book, and handed him one. He glanced at it and, in the most business-like-but-obviously-annoyed tone possible, explained that all their book purchases were handled by a distributor, then disappeared in the back to find me the phone number. He handed me a sticky note with the initials and phone number of the distributor and ushered me (and my book) out of the store.
Where do you think I will do my book shopping from now on? And if that anonymous writer a few years ago had his or her way I would not have a choice.