An Independent Bookstore Manifesto: Let Them Read Books

Unoppressive and Non-Imperialist Bargain Books, located on 34 Carmine St in the West Village, is a bookstore for the people. It arms the sans-culottes of New York City with intellectual weaponry that they don’t need to purchase through imperialistic companies. The bookstore’s website declares its mission: “NYC-based specialty bargain bookstore dealing in highly curated art, fiction, philosophy, spirituality, music, and more! Books always below half retail price!”

“We are non-imperialist because we are not trying to take over the world. We are not Amazon” -Jim Drougas

The store gives reading revolutionaries as much equipment as possible, packing myriad books into modest square-footage. A considerable space enshrines a formidable collection of books on Bob Dylan, the bard of countercultures. Atop stacks of Dylan biographies hangs a cardboard cutout of the artist, serenading his paperback audience.

Jim Drougas, owner of Unoppressive, was standing at the checkout counter – really a register balanced atop a stack of books on top of a small table – when I visited. He wore loose clothing and a wide-brimmed hat atop his long, silvery hair. He greeted me in a low, soothing voice and his tone was as unoppressive as the store. My question for him was, “What makes this store unoppressive and non-imperialist?” It incited an intriguing conversation with the unconventional proprietor of an unconventional establishment.

Jim Drougas is an inspiring figure hidden in a small, bohemian bookshop. He is a revolutionary because he fights for the preservation of literary culture in America from his headquarters at Unoppressive and Non-Imperialist Bargain Books. Drougas told me, “We are non-imperialist because we are not trying to take over the world. We are not Amazon”. The bookstore is one of the few in New York City that successfully sells books at low prices. Online sellers, like Amazon, increasingly control the bookselling market. Bookstores across the world close their doors as consumers open their computers. According to The New Yorker, Amazon sells over half of the books in America, with about 65% of the market. Recently, the publisher Hachette threatened Amazon’s hold on the market when they declared that they wanted to set their own prices for their e-books. Amazon wanted to maintain their competitively low, fixed prices. Hachette refused to negotiate, so Amazon made it difficult to purchase books by Hachette publishers on their site. Hachette books were suddenly difficult to find on the site, had egregiously slow shipping rates, or were removed altogether. The sales of Hachette authors plummeted. Is Amazon a greedy conglomerate or is Hachette an unreasonable customer?

The question of the villain in this situation is irrelevant. The real question is: when did the function of books change from pleasure to profit? Authors can no longer live by their pens but by their publishers. They are entangled in the politics of corporations that are concerned with the sale of the book – not the quality, not the availability, and not the integrity. Authors and readers fall victim to the greedy capitalist politics stemming from Amazon’s hold on 65% of the market.

Drougas’ store represents that other 35%. It serves as a vestige of the golden years of reading. Local students who did a profile of Drougas called him “The last bohemian of Carmine Street.” His nonconformist mentality drives him to fight for the success of a product that has waned in public interest. Bohemians do not find fulfillment from a popular approval of their work, their ideas, or their product. Capitalist greed does not poison a bohemian mind because the only profit he needs is mental, not monetary. Drougas’ drive to continue his work comes from a fulfillment of his own interests and what he finds important, regardless of what the majority thinks or how much money he makes.

Unoppressive is bohemian, nonconforming, and overall unique because it is one of the last independent bookstores. It is a rarity. It sells books at a price people can afford. It is more of a book provider than a book seller. The books may have price tags, but this service is priceless.

Unoppressive sells people books because it wants them to read, not because it wants to make as much money as possible. Today, money is the main goal of many publishing companies. They do not advertise reading for reading’s sake but in the interest of increasing their capital. Reading is important for the happiness, healthiness, and progressiveness of a society by providing fantasy, information, and inspiration for readers. It should not be subject to the interests or control of a few elites who run book-selling corporations.

Readers who hope to promote a system that offers a wide variety of books and to preserve their right to the attainment of these books should support local bookstores like  Jim Drougas’ Unoppressive and Non-Imperialist Bargain Books. Having one company, like Amazon, have totalitarian rule over the market creates a homogenous environment. The elite staff members will enjoy abundant paperback privileges while the masses get no say in what books are published and what aren’t.

Jim Drougas does not have to be the last bohemian of Carmine Street. He does not have to be the last revolutionary, the last store owner whose concern with profit does not consume or command him. The success and endurance of Unoppressive and Non-Imperialist Bargain Books proves that the 35% is still fighting. They have not grown battle-weary. Our appreciation of bookstores may seem to have declined, but it is possible to revive our interest. Drougas is not the last bohemian battler on the field. “A touch of that last bohemian is in all of you. Just like when your grandfather dies, he’s still there inside you,” Drougas said when I talked to him. The memory of bohemianism exists in the literary culture that Drougas fosters. A bohemian perspective on book buying can still exist in a modern sphere that worships the speed and convenience of the Internet. Drougas is the success story.

Let us log off our Amazon accounts and enter a bookstore. Let us breathe deeply the smell of crisp pages. Let us explore aisles and search shelves. Wander into Unoppressive and Non-Imperialist Bargain Books and you might find your new favorite novel. At the very least, you will catch a glimpse of a West Village revolutionary and leave with a complimentary bookmark.




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