On Oct. 12, Buffalo Street Books, Ithaca’s community–owned bookstore, held an owner’s meeting, open to the public, to detail the financial difficulties the store has been facing and to inspire a much-needed call to action. Rob Vanderlan, president of the bookstore’s executive board, provided historical context for the store’s conception, as well as factors that have contributed to the current challenges.
Vanderlan described the tough terrain Buffalo Street Books navigates with the emergence of Barnes and Noble, Borders, and most notably Amazon. As these stores begin to monopolize the book market, enticing consumers with cheap and quick purchases, independent bookstores, like our very own Buffalo Street Books, have a difficult time surviving. As of 2016 in the United States, there were only 1,775 independent bookstores left. In other words, Ithaca possesses a rarity. With that said, it is one we must work to preserve.
When I walked into Buffalo Street Books for the first time about a year ago, I was immediately taken with the space. The displays of books were thoughtfully arranged, divided into a myriad of genres like fiction, YA novels, creative nonfiction, poetry, cooking, and more. With places to lounge and pathways to browse, the store has crafted an inviting niche for booklovers. Yet through my many visits to the store, I have learned that the selection of books only begins to account for the gifts the store provides.
Buffalo Street Books cultivates community. It’s a space for gathering. On the BSB website, independent bookstores are described as “important sites for maintaining literary communities, preserving local flavor by combating the homogenizing effect of corporate stores and promoting a lively and diverse intellectual discourse.” Not only does the bookstore symbolize Ithaca’s community, but it also enriches it. The store hosts events for authors, artists, and even Ithaca College’s English and writing departments. Such events incite rich conversation and prompt meaningful questions among those who attend.
As the store faces severe difficulty, we as students have a chance to make an impact and support our community. It’s true the books at BSB tend to be more expensive, but if every IC student made a point to purchase one book, here or there, maybe for a class or for pleasure, our college community would supplement significant support. You can even order online if you can’t make the trip down to The Commons.
With that said, our student body should be integrating into the community in all the ways that we can. It becomes all too easy to stay nestled on top of the hill, immersed in the college bubble, but there’s an additional kind of learning that takes place when you venture down into the town of Ithaca and experience the vibrant community. Attending the store’s emergency meeting proved to me just how much this community cares. The store was packed with owners and book lovers alike, each asking questions and brainstorming ways to save the store. Students don’t have to and shouldn’t abstain from attending these conversations because we can learn a lot from witnessing these moments. Buffalo Street Books defined just what it looks like to mobilize community.
In college, there’s often the notion that we’re in a holding cell, waiting to find purpose and make a difference when we graduate. However, we can affect our community now by starting with the seemingly small things, like buying from and supporting our local stores. I can’t think of a better or more relevant place to start than Buffalo Street Books.