There are many differences between national retailers and local businesses. (By the way, don't worry, this isn't going to turn into a call that you should shop locally this holiday season). One difference is that small businesses tend to see other businesses as allies and as an important part of the fabric of their locality, rather than as competitors. Booksellers especially see their fellows that way, even if you can make a very good argument that they _are_ competitors.
That's why I'm asking you to take a trip out to Berkeley and visit Dark Carnival <http://www.darkcarnival.com/>.
Jack Rems opened Dark Carnival in 1976 when he was only 21. As someone who has spent a fair amount of time jumping from profession to profession (four total as of now), I admire the hell out of someone who, so early, picked something that works for them. Even more I admire that Jack has stuck with it. The last few years have been extremely hard for any small business and even harder for a small bookstore. But stick with it he has.
He also stepped up to the plate when it looked like Berkeley was going to lose the legendary comic book store, Comic Relief. Jack opened another business (in 2011, for gods' sake, when the financial sky was still falling), Escapist Comics <http://www.escapistcomics.com/>, and took much of the inventory and staff from Comic Relief.
If you've never been to Dark Carnival, it's a treat. In some ways it is the polar opposite of Borderlands. It's unbelievably cluttered and crowded. It's not very clearly organized. And it's hard to navigate. But none of that is a bad thing at all. My own choice is to work in a place like Borderlands but I love to shop in a place like Dark Carnival. It's like a treasure hunt and I never know what I'm going to find. It's weird, wild, and full of surprises. (Like some of the oddest plastic toys I've run across. They're in baskets all over the place.)
It was in stores like Dark Carnival that my love of bookstores and SF started. Back in the day, SF specialty stores were all like Jack's shop. If you've never visited a shop like that, you're missing something vital and true about bookselling and SF & fantasy. Years of attrition have chewed away at those shops so that now I only know of two, for real, old-school science fiction bookshops -- Dark Carnival, and Uncle Hugo's in Minneapolis.
And now it looks like Jack can use a little bit of help. From his website -
"To our staunch supporters-
It's thanks to all of you that we're still here.
Please, If you have any shopping to do, now and for the holidays, do some of it here. Pull a friend in the door, show them our stores. Give someone a gift certificate, or just buy one for yourself as a way to get us some working capital.
No other way to say this. We need your help.
Please shop at Dark Carnival Bookstore and Escapist Comics.
We need you."
So, this month, give a present to the book business, your fellow readers, and everyone else who cares about SF, fantasy, and horror (including me) -- take a trip to Berkeley's lovely Claremont neighborhood and visit Dark Carnival.
PS Here's a great profile of the shop. - http://litreactor.com/columns/indie-bookstore-spotlight-dark-carnival-berkeley
PPS Two other things I admire about Dark Carnival - their sign is so very, very cool. And, they've got _way_ more books than we do. Like three times more.