Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Place To Eat Words

Barbara's Bookstore has been a fixture in Oak Park, Illinois, for almost forty years. It's one of the independent shops that came on board during the 1970's, when being independent was trendy and dinosaurs like Brentano's were for old people. It was owned by Barbara, and she was in the shop to answer your questions and help you find something to read.

You'd go there for hard to find books, like Our Bodies, Our Selves, the sorts of thing that the corporate stores didn't carry for fear of upsetting their elderly clientele.

Amazon, of course, changed everything. Shrinking economies, lack of disposable income, and the introduction of countless electronic entertainment gadgets put a big hurt on the independent bookseller.

Barbara's had to watch its expenses as sales declined, and owner Don Barliant thought he was being double billed on the property taxes due on the Oak Park store. It added up to a sizeable amount, an amount that he deducted from the rent payments. In essence, he refused to pay the rent for several months, until the double billing and rent due evened out.

Building owner Anthony Shaker was not on the same page as Mr. Barliant. He sued for the back rent, and a judge has just issued a ruling in his favor.

The lease might have been convoluted, but it was signed by Mr. Barliant and it's caveat emptor out there where the fittest survive.

Mr. Barliant must pay Mr. Shaker $126,543.18, to cover back rent, current rent owed for the last two months of the lease, and Mr. Shaker's legal fees.

Whether or not an independent bookseller can come up with that kind of money, without gutting the other locations, is a matter for Mr. Barliant to deal with. Barbara's Bookstore has several other stores, but no one shops at Macy's (it was Marshall Field's and Chicagoans are not a forgiving people), and a bookstore in a hospital can't be particularly profitable.

So Barbara's will be pushed out and Potbelly's Sandwich Works will replace it.

Shall we all just go and eat our words?

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