Ace September 1992
A Vote for the Cafe
BY DENNIS CARRIGAN
When Joseph-Beth Booksellers opened in November of 1986 in the Mall at Lexington Green, my wife and I were not optimistic. We had seen two prior bookstores at other locations come and go, and had no reason to believe the fate awaiting the new store would be different. As a measure of how wrong we were, the store currently is undergoing its third expansion, from 16,500 to 25,000 square feet.
When the expansion is complete, Joseph-Beth reportedly will be the largest bookstore in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, and will be one of the growing
number of book "superstores" that are a relatively recent phenomenon across the country. According to a Newsweek article, some of these stores occupy 30,000 square feet and stock 150,000 titles. "The superstores," according to the article, "strive to combine the huge selection of books with the ambience of an eccentric old bookshop. The only thing missing is logs crackling in the fireplace."
But not for long at Joseph-Beth. With the expansion, the number of titles carried will grow to 120,000 and the size of the Children's Department will triple. Moreover, Joseph Beth will offer services beyond those associated with bookstores. A cafe and travel agency will be added, as well as a conference room and a fireplace.
I am especially eager for the cafe to open. In spite of the store's extensive inventory of books, and in spite of my fondness for bookstores, I go to Joseph Beth too infrequently. The store has become too successful for me. It simply draws too many people. To make matters worse, I am certain many of those the store draws have little interest in books and reading. And while the enlarged store may draw even more people, the cafe is certain to be popular among non-readers too, and will, I hope, get them out of the way of those of us who go for the books.
The popularity of the store for non-readers has to do, I am told, with the belief by many that it is a place to meet people. And not necessarily people one already knows. My observations convince me that is the case. It is not uncommon to see people at Joseph Beth whose attire suggests they are there not for the books, but rather to attract attention. Whether their efforts pay off, I don't know, but I wish them well.
My complaint with these people is not with their dress, but rather with their location: they get in the way of someone who wants to look at books. I remember an experience of several months ago. Two gentlemen whom I judged, from their comments, to be high school coaches or assistant coaches, were engaged in serious conversation about a certain "AD" which I took to be "athletic director." Well and good, except that they were positioned in front of a section of books I was looking at. Surely, I thought, they could not be oblivious to my presence and would move as I got close to them. Not so. I yielded to their greater girth and went elsewhere in the store.
On another occasion, while I was looking at certain books, a man showing no interest in the books positioned himself between me and them. I said to the obstacle, loudly enough to cause a third man to snicker, that he was making it difficult to see the books, but he was oblivious. I marveled at his concentration, and again went elsewhere in the store. The time between my visits is growing.
Consequently, even though I doubt I'll use it much, the Cafe gets my vote. I am hopeful it will solve my problem and restore me to a Joseph-Beth regular. My one concern is that it won't be large enough, leaving many non-book people still to get in the way. If that happens, I have a suggestion ready: confine any future expansion to the Cafe.