Why is Congress Avenue Booksellers closing?
Congress Ave. to Close
The news that Congress Ave. Booksellers will be closing its doors at the end of March arrives just as other bookstores are beginning to come back to life with a wealth of literary events after recovering from the onslaught of Christmas sales -- a sad irony since Congress Ave. put on some of the best literary events in town. To categorize the events at the store as "intimate" is not a sly insult -- owner Eleanor Cochran, a kind lady from West Texas with a big, broad smile and a gift for putting people at ease, often served up lunch during store events for free and, come to think of it, didn't even twist customers' arms to buy her books after they ate her food.
Some of the typical culprits when independent bookstores close -- greedy landlords, chain stores that move in across the street -- are red herrings here. Cochran, at least, says that the closing is a business decision, plain and simple. There has been no decrease in store traffic and last December's sales went especially well. But there has been no increase in store traffic and December only lasts for 31 days. And the parking! Don't get her started on the parking; it's the bane of her existence, and rightfully so.
"It's an ideal store if you had more parking," Cochran says, "but also if you could do a very wonderful newsletter and a Web site, change the Web site once a month with new offerings. That would be two things that we could have done that we didn't do."
And times have changed. "I had a good customer call me yesterday, asking about a title," she says. "He was looking at the Amazon screen (he doesn't tell you that when you first have the phone call). You run, look it up in Books in Print. You know, you go through all of the effort to try to serve him and then he tells you that he can get it 30% off at Amazon -- you're always dealing with that. But that's American consumerism."
A sale of store items is scheduled to begin in mid-February.
The Writers' Journey
The title of the Austin Writers' League's upcoming literary conference, The Writers' Journey: Crafting the Story, is apt for more than one reason. The Writers' League is undergoing a journey of its own. "We had gotten some criticism for concentrating so much on the business side of writing," AWL executive director Jim Bob McMillan says, "and we really wanted to do something where we explored the craft and this is one step in that direction and there's a lot more for us to do." Christopher Vogler, author of The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, will be the keynote speaker with lots of Austin writers rounding out the lineup: Carol Dawson, Tim McCanlies, Tom Grimes, Carolyn Banks, Robin Bradford, Jesse Sublett, David Marion Wilkinson, and Suzy Spencer, among others. The conference takes place February 5-6. Call 499-8914 for more information.
Fans of that old fave The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood should plan on attending debut novelist Helen Ellis' reading at BookPeople on February 3 at 7pm. Her novel Eating the Cheshire Cat puts a decidedly satirical twist on the rites of passage Southern belles have to navigate and is funny, funny, funny... Robert Olen Butler will be at the store the day before at 7pm to read from his new novel Mr. Spaceman.