Said Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto, in the New York Times: “I have no interest in retail; I have no interest in opening a bookstore. But I also have no interest in living in a city without a bookstore.”
When Patchett’s hometown of Nashville lost its last bookstore last year, the best-selling author did something about it: she started her own. In many cities, bookstores play an important role in civic engagement, serving as informal meeting places, promoting intellectual discourse, and hosting authors from a diverse variety of genres and viewpoints. Central Connecticut State University uses the presence of bookstores as an indicator when crowning “America’s Most Literate City.” The Daily Beast takes things one step further, determining “America’s Smartest (and Dumbest) Cities” based on factors that include nonfiction book sales.
In 2010, the Providence metropolitan area (which includes New Bedford and Fall River) ranked 30th in the latter study, but it can be presumed that the presence of universities, not bookstores, drives the results significantly. Because while Providence has its fair share of resources for bibliophiles (my personal favorite is Cellar Stories downtown), options in New Bedford and Fall River are relatively limited, particularly if you’re looking to buy something new. Since Baker Books left New Bedford to open its Dartmouth store, the only options of which I’m aware include the Whaling Museum (naturally, topic selection is quite limited), Upstairs Used Books (on Pleasant Street, next to Spicy Lime), and Antiques at the Cove, which has an overwhelmingly large section of used books. As for Fall River, the only option I can find (besides the bookstore at Bristol Community College) is a place called Bargain Books.
At the same time, if Nashville, TN–a city of about 630,000 residents with a bustling tourist trade and a handful of universities–wasn’t able to support a bookstore, can New Bedford or Fall River?