Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ode to Independents
by Cristin Cali

I was driving down Rt. 149 the other afternoon and noticed that there was a pizza delivery car in front of me. I was amused by the colorful decals plastered all over the car, advertising an adorable, eager-to-please restaurant. For some reason, I started to draw parallels between the pizza business and the independent book-selling industry.

We’re all aware that the big pizza chains are Dominos, Papa Gino’s and Pizza Hut. As a little kid in the late 80s, I remember those three restaurants being the King, Queen and Prince of the pizza world. On a cold or miserable rainy night at the end of a long day my parents would sometimes resort to take out or the occasional delivery. When we ordered from the chains, each pizza would taste exactly the same every time, without the slightest variation.While there may be something comforting about the predictability of a franchise, there’s nothing particularly memorable or special about it either. On the other hand, while growing up in West Barnstable, I would frequently make a pilgrimage (one exclusive to children under the age of fifteen) to the Old Village Store. Whenever I would round the corner (after stopping at the library, of course) I would eagerly anticipate the sight of the maroon building and the dusty scent of its old wooden floor.

Next to the Village Store was the most unassuming pizza parlor, appropriately named Old Village Restaurant and Pizza. I remember it being extremely small, with an Old World atmosphere. In the summer, a batch of strong, tall sunflowers would flourish in front of the quaint little porch where people would sit and devour their massive, piping hot slices.

I attribute my fond memories of Old Village Pizza to the gruff, wrinkled woman who barked orders behind the counter, the romantic ethnicity of the place, and its perfectly sparse decorations. That one restaurant evokes more charm and memories than all of my experiences with the large franchises combined.

So, in thinking about all of this while I was stuck behind the delivery car, I concluded that independent bookstores and humble, locally owned pizza places are quite similar.

I’ve been in the large chain bookstores and they are all the same, no matter where I go. Such homogenized businesses send a shiver down my spine, because they lack warmth and feeling. However, there are still (thank goodness!) plenty of unusual, charming, independent bookstores out there for adventurous book lovers to discover and celebrate.

It takes more time and effort to go to the unique places where we’ll be most likely to have a memorable, truly enjoyable experience. If you are able to spend time finding such precious gems, you will be rewarded with the creativity, quirks, passion and most importantly, the humanity that’s exclusive to independent shops around the world.