Here's somebody's list of The Top 10 Bookstores in the US, i.e., not including any Barnes & Noble or Borders. I 've never set foot in several. There seems to be some dissent about Powell's Portland, but I'm still a fan; one of the last places in the world where it is fun just to browse (the branch out on Hawthorne is homey, though inevitably less well stocked). I'd have to register a dissent about the Strand in New York--sure, it's huge, but I've rarely found anything there I actually want. I still go out of my way in Manhattan to visit St. Mark's--not on the list, small, but carefully stocked. And I still go to Black Oak in Berkeley--also not on the list, prices high enough to give you the bends but often worth it (SFO, by the way, still has the only airport bookstore worth stepping into, not so?).
I was impressed to see reports that the three-storey Barnes & Noble katty korner up from the Metropolitan Opera will be closing--lost our lease. I made it my home away from home while I was teaching at Cardozo in '96, and it was always packed--not sure I ever got a table in the coffee shop. Been through there since and it seemed to experience no shortage of customers (Borders down in the Time-Warner Center has somewhat the same appeal, though it is beginning to acquire just a hint of the old Woolworth smell.
I know there is a standard meme/lament about all bookstores are degenerating into coffee shops, while all coffee shops are morphing into study halls. I'm a culprit here: I love to do my reading/writing in a noisy/busy environment, and I even named the coffee shop in the acknowledgments to the last two books I wrote. I realize that we readers/writers can be a problem for a business where turnover is a factor (and in some sense, turnover is a factor for every business). But here's a suggestion: just once--it was in Madrid--I went into a coffee shop where they sold you a ticket: for the equivalent of I guess a buck (this was 15 years ago) you could come and go, read the newspapers off the long sticks, they may have even offered ink and letterhead though I didn't need it. Oh, and waiters in slippers who looked like they had been there since before Franco left North Africa. I'd pay; give me a decent wifi link and I'd cheerfully pay. Might even pay for a spot of coffee extra.
Fn.: did a bit of e-chat on Facebook this morning with my son. I was in a coffee shop here in Palookaville. Turns out he was on his day off hanging out at a Borders 2,000 miles away. Must be in the genes.