There’s a real need to support low-income families in New York, but I looked in vain for answers in Ms. Casner’s diatribe against local businesses (“Shangri-La,” River …
There’s a real need to support low-income families in New York, but I looked in vain for answers in Ms. Casner’s diatribe against local businesses including some sideswipes at my bookstore, One Grand Books.
Ms. Casner can be quite funny, but her targets are misjudged. Quite apart from the fact that you can buy a children’s book at One Grand Books for the same price you’d pay at Barnes & Noble, the suggestion that bookstores are a niche for the well-heeled smacks of philistinism.
Ms. Casner was wryly amused at the fact that I have asked accomplished people to help me curate the books I sell, ignoring the fact that no physical bookstore, however large, can be comprehensive, and therefore every bookstore has to “curate” the books it sells. That can be done by the owner, the staff, or—in my case—people I admire. Over the years, I’ve invited figures as diverse as Pete Buttigeig, the actor Laura Linney and the novelist John Irving to choose 10 books that have shaped their lives and work. It takes a furious amount of effort to get those lists, but the result is eclectic and wide-ranging, and frankly more interesting than my own reading choices.
There are books at One Grand that you won’t find anywhere else in the U.S., and I take pride in the fact that it exists not in New York or London, but in a small upstate town that I’ve chosen to make my home. I may not have grown up here, but for eight years I’ve paid my taxes here, paid school fees here, and employed people here. The money spent on local businesses like mine goes back into other local businesses, since Narrowsburg is where I spend my income.
I’ve also created a literary festival in Narrowsburg at which at least half of the events are free, part of my solution to helping ensure equality of access to the arts in rural New York. Trying to figure out ways to expand the audience, and bring in people who might otherwise feel disinclined to attend, is a subject we think long and hard about.
Ms. Casner doesn’t have to like One Grand Books (there’s a Barnes & Noble in Wilkes-Barre, and a terrific indie bookstore in Roscoe, The Hound Books), but she is welcome to work a shift in my store to see who my customers are, and how many of them are children—happy (as I once was) for a space where they can browse and read books without being expected to buy anything. I grew up in England where there was a bookstore in every town, and when I chose to open my bookstore in Narrowsburg in 2015 it was with the intention of recreating a precious part of my childhood. I arrived to find Narrowsburg’s Main Street thriving thanks to the efforts of artists and entrepreneurs who had revived a once-dormant town, often using their life savings in the process.
I’m grateful for them for helping create a town attractive to tourists who come and spend their money here, and I’d be the first to raise my hand up and say that I’m glad we have a supermarket like Pete’s and don’t have to rely on a Dollar General. No one should have to rely on a Dollar General for affordable food.
Ms. Casner is right that we need to figure ways to support low-income families, but I question the proposition that Dollar General is some kind of solution. While the chain continues to open new outlets at an astonishing rate—currently more than 19,000—it is notorious for bad working conditions.
Perhaps, as Ms. Casner suggests, Dollar General is a haven for affordable underwear, but that elides the fact that what you purchase at discount chain stores perpetuates sweatshops in low-wage countries like China and Mexico.
It’s quaint to suggest that a monster created by capitalism is any kind of fix to the problems of capitalism, but I prefer to put my faith in the small businesses that know this community because they live and work in it—in the process helping to create the support networks we so vitally need. I’m pretty sure Ms. Casner does, too, so why the snark?
Aaron Hicklin owns One Grand Books, 60 Main St., Narrowsburg, NY.
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