Sunday, January 15, 2006

The End of an Era

The Monterey County Herald calls the closing of the Thunderbird Bookshop "the end of an era." If that is so, there are so many other signs of its demise--this era--and questions, in my mind, as to what will replace it.

Is it not a coincidence that the first of the baby-boomers will be turning 60 next year? No, more like this year. That's the generation that is now graying seriously and whose era is now on the ebb. And the Thunderbird was, in a sense, a product of the 60s. Oh, its founder, May, was a pre-war child, but she and her clientele found their inspiration in the tremendous idealism of the 60s--the enthronement of nature and human values, which were quickly slipping into the jaws of a menacing corporate world, a mega-capitalism for which the only value would be money. In the 40s and 50s, her kind were the prophets, the idealists. In the 60s, they discovered their validation. The people of the 60s discovered the importance of relationship, the inherent goodness of the body, the joy of sex, the importance of natural foods and exercise, the importance of human values over those of commerce. "Stop and smell the roses," was the 60s motto.

Out of that world sprang the Thunderbird. It was a place where people could find good books, gather over coffee or lunch, meet authors. The Thunderbird occupied the place of a jewel in the ring of stores that made up the Barnyard, a rural-style shopping village outside Carmel, where the setting was as important as the shopping. Year round something was blooming in the many flower beds, and often times live music drifted among the shops.

But that world is drifting away. I see the same forces at work in Monterey, as the City Council seems determined to cut off Safeway's lease in order to negotiate a deal with Trader Joe's to take over the property there on Munras St. Even in the face of popular uproar, the Council has set its jaw. Now, you would think Trader Joe's would be the obvious choice for a product of the 60s, and that's true in principle. But in the case of Monterey, the value at hand is real people. We have here a real community, with real inhabitants, that is being hijacked by commercial interests that want to turn it into a theme park. It's a tourist destination, a night-time haunt, but not a place where real inhabitants can go to shop. Even now, there is no hardward store in Monterey, no variety store, no kitchen-supply, no stationery store, and soon there will be no full-service grocery. But the value of a living, working community of people has taken second place to the primary value of pulling in those tourist dollars.

I wake up at night wondering what will take the place of these waning vestiges of the 60s, when human workmanship was still important, when artistry meant something, where a place for human beings to gather counted. Can we hang onto our Paris Bakery, our Morgans', in the face of Starbucks?
What will it take for the new generation to wake up and smell the coffee?


At 4:40 PM, Blogger "The Fanatic" said...

It is interesting to see the changes in book buying mentality as the generation gaps widen. I enjoyed this aspect of your blog comment, but I think there needs to be action taken and idea formation to help save the independent bookstores rather than simple musings. What can we do to save the indie bookstores?

At 4:02 PM, Blogger St. Jeanne des Pins said...

What can we do? I think we need to think outside the proverbial box. Let's think bathrooms!
How many times did I visit the Thunderbird's restroom, back in the day when they still had them? There were those times when the restroom made it possible for me to go on browsing through the books. The times our writers' group meeting took a potty-refreshment break. And then, once I started working at the Barnyard, the times I nibbled my way through the bookstore on my way to that same restroom?
I can only guess why the Thunderbird had to give up its restrooms. The cost of upgrading was too prohibitive, perhaps. Or were we looking at possible lawsuits for a non-wheelchair-accessible facility?
If this was the reason, do we not realize that a non-existent restroom is NOT wheelchair-accessible? But I realize that potential lawsuits do not always consider common sense or the common good.
We should be taking a hard look at the bathroom issue, however. I must confess that I know the location of the restroom in every bookstore in the area. This began when I was the young mother of a toddler who cultivated an interest in comparative restrooms. Of course, toilet-training is a gradual process, and so most young parents have a need of available restrooms. That's a market right there. Young parents buy children's books.
A young woman I work with brings her pot of tea to work every day and drinks the whole thing. Tea drinkers will understand what this means for the bladder. Tea and coffee are continually gaining in popularity in our culture today--meaning, we need more, not fewer, restroom facilities. Do young people visit bookstores? They might if there were a coffee bar nearby.
I lived with my aging father, who found he was not comfortable at the thought of being too distant from a restroom. We purposely patronized establishments with easily accessible bathrooms. In the old days that included the Thunderbird, and the Barnyard in general.
Who reads most in our society today? I would guess it's the generations that are entering retirement, or are well into that state. These are all people who are looking at an increasing need for restrooms.
Are we getting a message here?
In Europe you pay the restroom lady who keeps the place in good shape. That might take care of maintenance. Or it might just pay to do whatever it takes to keep the restroom usable if we don't want our bookstores to go down the tubes.


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