Yesterday I got out of the shop to get some Christmas shopping started. I found myself on Queen Street West in the hip quarter of Toronto and discovered (for the first time) an independent bookshop called TYPE. The shop has a beautiful yellow hue for lighting, wide plank floorboards, soft jazz music at an ambient volume and an impressive selection of art and design books, notebooks and biographies. I stuck around flipping through titles for about 40 minutes, eavesdropping on conversations, getting a sense of what people were seeking and taking in the fashion sense of a crowd easily twenty years my junior. A great reprieve from my usual routine.
What struck me about being in such a relic of a business as a bookstore was how busy the shop was on a Tuesday afternoon and how young the patrons were. I bought a collection of poems by Leonard Cohen for $32.95 and The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way To Live Well for $21.99 for a total bill of $54.94 plus tax. Had I bought these two books on Amazon, my bill would have been $41.91 plus tax (both books are available through Prime so we will say there would have been no shipping charge) for a total savings of just over $13.00.
Actually we should add the cost of me driving to the city, plus the cost of parking and then for good measure, add some number to factor the potential lost revenue from leaving my shop, when I could have bought these two titles in less than 2 minutes online. $13 bucks may just be the start of the savings.
But here's the rub; I would never have known about either of these books had I not been browsing in a physical environment and truth be told, I had no idea what Hygge was until stepping in to TYPE. What price should be removed from the $13 savings to account for the decrease in stress I was feeling, being in such warm surroundings, or the boost of energy I was feeling in the company of such a stylish hip crowd? When you add the intangibles, maybe the $13 savings had I shopped online isn't a savings at all.
David Sax, writing in the Sunday New York Times introduced me to a phrase that I had not heard before called "rearview innovation" - it's a funny term, for innovation as we know it depends on a forward trajectory, so what is to be accomplished by looking back? Think of our food source and the rise of organic and natural grains that are popular today as an easy example. For thousands of years food was only organic and natural, but at some point it became processed and a loaf of white bread could last for weeks without going bad. Rearview innovation means finding inspiration in the past and has prompted a rise in farmer's markets, farm to table dining, countless small-shop artisans making boutique cheeses, meats, coffee, craft beers you name it. What most of these rearview businesses place at the core of their success is a sense of community. The rise of such community has not gone unnoticed by the likes of Amazon who are opening their own bookstores or even Walmart who are now testing new store layouts to incorporate food halls and farmer's markets and even bike rentals. David Sax, makes a pointed observation that the two companies that have played a big role in eroding Main street are now going back to re-create Main street.
To sit in PJs with a coffee and do a one-click purchase on Amazon is indeed a marvel of technology and the essence of convenience, but maybe getting out and about and picking up a few things from a physical shop has value too. The most value really.
As always many thanks for reading.