Yesterday afternoon Elijah and I stopped by one of my favorite local used-book stores. I hadn't been by since before Christmas, and as I pulled up, I was disappointed to see that the store was closed. That struck me as odd, because it wasn't a holiday or anything. Then I noticed a sign on the door saying that the store was closed because the owner had died last Wednesday. Visitation was Sunday afternoon, funeral Monday morning.
The proprietor, David, had been a gentlemanly fellow; I'd gotten to know him a little over the last decade of visiting his store. He was a Christian; I'd seen his book van at a local church's parking lot, and we'd chat occasionally about new books in his religion section. I was sad to hear that he was gone. I knew he was getting up in years, but he had seemed healthy. We know not our time.
In a commercial culture of big box stores and national chains, it's rare to get familiar with retail employees. You don't often see the same cashiers in the checkout lines, and employees are pretty interchangable and utilitarian - you only think of them in terms of how they might help you find an item. In our anonymous suburban culture, we don't often get to know store proprietors, except perhaps at family-owned mom-and-pop stores. There we're more likely to connect with people in our communities, especially if we become regular customers enough that we recognize one another upon return visits.
And retail bricks-and-mortar bookselling has fallen on hard times - it's difficult to compete with the online giants of the world. I have no idea how much of a margin David made on each book sale - it couldn't have been more than a few bucks at best. It's hard to imagine the amount of sales volume needed to pay the rent. But he did so valiantly, with a quirky little bookstore with piles of books all over the shelves and floor, creating a little bit of a "third place" for the local community.
I was surprised to read in David's obituary that he had a PhD in chemistry. I had no idea. He had owned and operated his bookstore for thirteen years, which is just about the same amount of time I've been living in the area. The Lisle bookstore has been an integral part of my sense of local community here in the western suburbs of Chicago.
I salute you, David, the Lisle bookstore guy. Thanks for your work and love of books. May you enjoy eternity reading books even more wondrous than those you carried in this lifetime.