Thursday, January 09, 2014

Hitting The Bottom Of A Dry Well

Fascinating, the prehistoric insect encased in amber. At one time it flew through ancient air, high over other animals that are now equally extinct. Their time came, and then it went.

They no longer exist because the climate that fostered them changed. Other creatures arose from the primordial ooze and out-competed them. The plants on which they fed died out due to natural fluctuations in climate, the result of an asteroid strike or a volcanic eruption.

It would be grand if we could preserve other things in amber, to keep them for all times as they once were, but alas, the business climate is as variable as the exit from an ice age. Hence, the death of Modern Times bookstore in San Francisco.

When the shop first opened in 1971, the climate in the Mission District was radically different than it is now. The last dregs of the peace and love era were still infusing the atmosphere, and those with little financial resources found homes in San Francisco. Artists developed their colonies. Musicians hung out in the clubs. All was liberal, the baby boomers doing their own thing and hoping to die before they got old.

But they did indeed get old, and their children invented electronic devices, made enormous amounts of cash, and started buying up homes in the area because they wanted to live in the climate they were raised in. Money was not an object, and the price of real estate started to climb until only those with sufficient resources could afford to live in the Mission District. The less-wealthy types who supported Modern Times had to move elsewhere, to less trendy areas that were reasonable.

The second generation, the Milleniums and GenXers and what all, they embraced the new technology, and invented other ways to provide goods and services. The local independent bookshop lost its cachet among the younger set, who had fond memories but no great desire to buy books when they could purchase digital editions much more cheaply, and with instant gratification. A busy set of humans, they took advantage of free shipping and the ability to meet their needs online to save time. Going to a store became even less critical.

The ever-escalating rents, which landlords can demand because there is demand for space, have largely killed off Modern Times. The owners would encase their place in amber if they could, to preserve it as it once was, but that takes money and there is not enough money coming in as book sales decline. Costs go up, while income goes down, and there are only so many times you can go to the crowdfunding well before you find that the well has run dry.

The Mission District is no longer the progressive bastion it once was. It is now trendy. The demographics have shifted, as if an asteroid had struck San Francisco and wiped out the Modern Times' customer base. New life forms have filtered in, but they don't need or care about an independent bookstore that trumpets its existence since 1971. It's a bit of a dinosaur in their eyes.

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