Anodyne
Saturday, October 21, 2006
 

Pete Dexter, God's Pocket:

"Mickey Scarpato was forty-five years old and did not understand women. It wasn't the way bartenders or comedians didn't understand women, it was the way poor people didn't understand the economy. You could stand outside the Girard Bank Building every day of your life and never guess anything about what went on in there. That's why, in their hearts, they'd always rather stick up a 7-11."
 

Untitled (Integrity), 2006. Unique print; collection cjb
 
Pete Dexter, God's Pocket:

"There was a time when his awkward way around her was nice -- after all the others it was sweet, a man like a boy -- but when she'd finally needed him for something, he'd been afraid to get near it."
 

One Hundred Famous Ghosts (31), 2006
Friday, October 20, 2006
 

Hoping For Replacement

Up Grouse Mountain from sea level, past Lonsdale's produce stalls, a KFC ghost (#31, still on the camera card), landscaping trucks, Mosquito Creek, dripping forest. Singing Neil Young's After The Gold Rush over and over in my shaky cracked voice. Braided streams. Sunlight, steeply aslant through the trees at a quarter to six, just below the little green valley on the BCMC trail. Singing the Bee Gees' Nights on Broadway, the Magnetic Fields' No One Will Ever Love You Honestly, the Pet Shop Boys' Being Boring (qv. numerous past entries). No one's idea of a top twenty countdown, least of all my own, but it puts the black bears on notice. Red (big) Skyride not running due to cable maintenance; 45 minute lineup full of video camera-toting tourons for the smaller, "blue" Skyride. Like riding down the mountain in a creaking, swaying Volkswagen Bug with your fifty closest friends.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
 
First really cold evening of fall. High wind, sending flurries of red and yellow leaves down off Columbia Street, scattering over the wooden bins of 29 cent pumpkins, 19 cent cabbages, 99 cent Macs and Fujis and Jonagolds.

Ranadall Woods' LBJ: Architect of American Ambition propped open on my lap on Skytrain.

Cool late fall sunlight, the last traces of last night's storm furling away up the Valley. Crown, Grouse, Fromme and Seymour slowly emerging from the mist.

Yellow lined newsprint pad, Bic stick pen.

GUESS THE PUMPKIN'S WEIGHT. WIN A PRIZE!

NO TOUCHING! VISUAL INSPECTION ONLY!
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
 
CJB Contra Corporate Thrift Store, Round 3

Excerpt from novelist William Gibson's exemplary essay, "My Obsession":

"When I was a young man, traversing the '70s in whatever post-hippie, pre-slacker mode I could manage, I made a substantial part of my living, such as it was, in a myriad of minuscule supply-and-demand gaps that have now largely closed. I was what antique dealers call a 'picker,' a semi-savvy haunter of Salvation Army thrift shops, from which I would extract objects of obscure desire that I knew were up-marketable to specialist dealers, who sold in turn to collectors. To this day I am often unable to resist a professionally quick, carefully dispassionate scan over the contents of any thrift shop, though I almost never buy anything there. Mainly because the cut-rate treasures, the 'scores' of legend, are long gone. The market has been rationalized."

In other words, the knowledge I acquired first-hand from Gavin, and from the better part of a decade behind the Book & Comic Emporium buying counter, is now available to anyone with an Internet connection, cell phone, or wireless handheld barcode scanner. I'm not reflexively negative about this; no one is entitled to cheap books in perpetuity, and anyone whose business model simply consists of showing up at the local thrift store every morning is running a hobby business, not a real business.

And yet...

William Hoffer, a legendary Vancouver antiquarian bookseller whose crankiness far outweighs my own, once explained our trade this way: you're not paying for the book (ink, paper, binding, etc.), but the ability to walk in and find it on the shelf.

Why is a mediocre mass market paperback like John Grisham's The Client $4.95 in my shop, and $1.00 at the Salvation Army? Well, because I paid 40% of my retail price for it, instead of receiving it as a donation, and because my copy isn't spined and dog-eared, and because all the books in my shop are neatly arranged in alphabetical order, and because I stock nearly all of Grisham's books, not just that single title, and because if I should somehow be out of it when you come in I'll find you a copy in a week or two at no additional charge, and because, if you ask, the staff and I will recommend other, better, books that you might enjoy more, and because, assuming you do buy a book from me and don't read it in the bath, I'll offer you trade or cash when you bring it back. The Salvation Army will just take your dollar and send you on your way.

Corporate Thrift Store now charges as much as I do for pocket books. Apparently their owners and managers got William Gibson's memo about the rationalized playing field. So their copy of The Client costs the same as mine, but with none of the value-added services.

I once saw six Easton Press hardbacks in Corporate Thrift Store, in the locked "collectables" showcase, priced $49.99 apiece. Coincidentally, I had around 100 Eastons in the shop at that point, for which I had paid, on average, $25 apiece, and priced $34.95-$49.95.

Where had CTS' Eastons come from? Probably from someone who wanted to help out Big Brothers, or the Canadian Diabetes Association, and had donated their Eastons to them out of good will, not realizing that their favorite charity would receive cents on the retail dollar, courtesy the "partnership agreement" with CTS, while CTS' private owners hoovered up the bulk of profits.

Had the Eastons' owner really wanted to help charity, they would have called me -- or Don Stewart at MacLeod's Books, or Charles Purpora, or any one of a number of other reputable local dealers -- who would have paid them fairly for their books, instead of consigning them to CTS' greedy maw. The charity would then have received the real extent of the owner's extraordinary generosity, instead of pennies.

"What's your problem with CTS, anyway?"

I'm not complaining about how I can't find good stuff at CTS any more. I'm complaining that CTS misrepresents its business model to the public to its own advantage, treats its "partners" like shit, and competes with legitimate charities for the same finite supply of merchandise.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
 
The Honorable Member For South Wellington checks in (excerpted from a larger email dialogue):

"[F]or most people VV is a cheaper place to throw things away than the dump, and the only place in town where you can be pretty sure of getting a decent T-shirt for under 5 bucks. And I'm sure the charities are very happy with their cent on the dollar, which adds up to a lot more than say nothing. People like Wal-Mart because it's cheaper than Zellers and better run. I condemn Wal-Mart's bad practises, but I have no pity for all the crappy local operations they put out of business. Value Village performs its gatekeeper of junk function with more efficiency than say the Sally Ann (which I'm much more opposed to on purely philosophical grounds, enforcement of religion being more distasteful to me than the profit motive) and which has had to improve its thrift store in response. People don't shop at VV because they think it's going to charity, they shop there because it's a thrift store where one has at least a chance of finding what one wants. And books are only a small section of the store. But I must admit to really enjoying (and spending money in) a lot of businesses whose very existence offends you, like those cash only instant mall bookstores with factory flats of books, book warehouse type places etc. Your store is one of the few small proper bookstores that don't treat me like a shoplifter if I stay longer than ten minutes....I'm more interested in useful randomness than ethical practice, as far as books go..."
 

Corporate Thrift Store, Continued

Some friends write: "Why should you care?" Well, for several reasons.

When I was in high school, and even well on into university, CTS was the book scouting resource for anyone who took their trade seriously. Gavin, my old friend and manager at Book and Comic Emporium, took pity on my lack of scouting savvy one day, informed me that I was buying him lunch in return for his time, and loaded me onto the #9 bus. We went to the big CTS on East Hastings, not so far from the location of Jeff Wall's Milk. Gavin stationed himself beside me as I worked through bookcase after bookcase of potential purchases. "Take that one." "Don't take that, it's water-damaged." "That's overpriced." "Check that one, it's a PBO [paperback original]." Lots of other scouts wandered past us; they all seemed to know Gavin, and to be vaguely amused by me and the selections stacked in my red plastic shopping basket. I felt like I was being initiated into the Freemasons, or some other secret society.

Every time I walk into CTS, with its big bright trays of fluorescent light and the smell of freshly-laundered clothing, I experience a brief but potent pang of nostalgia for the scouting trips I took by bus, c. 1990-95, to the far ends of Vancouver and suburbs: Victoria Drive; Edmonds; Langley; North Road. This was not a particularly happy time in my life, and these trips always made me feel better, even when they were conducted in the snow, or the pouring rain.

In 1999, having determined that I was probably going to kill myself if I had to keep working at the UBC library, I cashed out my RRSP [Registered Retirement Savings Plan, the Canadian equivalent of a US IRA], and booked two weeks of holidays and an extra week of unpaid leave for early April. I rented a Toyota Corolla and drove south by southwest from Vancouver, passing through Boise, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, Santa Fe, Colorado Springs, Denver, Boise [again], Portland and Seattle. I visited approximately two hundred different thrift stores, including many CTS franchises, and filled the car six times. Gavin had told me I would need approximately 10,000 different titles to open a used bookstore of my own, and I tried to come as close to that total as I possibly could.

Stepping over the threshold of CTS -- any CTS -- always reminds me of that three-week trip, and the alternating sensations of giddy elation and near-suicidal depression that accompanied me. "You burn your bridges pretty good," D. observed last week, as we labored up the side of Mount Strachan. Well, yes, and on that 1999 trip I was very conscious of setting the fuses and lighting the matches, and also of how few matches were left in the pack. But there were also brief moments of happiness that will stay with me my whole life: the huge, half-pound bean and cheese burrito that I bought from a Mexican taco truck in a CTS parking lot in suburban Tucson; the sidewalk ice outside the motel in Cortez, Colorado; and the music on REM's lovely and totally neglected album Up, which was always on in the car, Michael Stipe's sad resigned voice a constant comfort as I crossed and recrossed the high plateau country in the thickly falling, weirdly unseasonal snow that began in eastern Oregon and didn't let up until Phoenix.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
 

Two days trundling around the Pacific Northwest in a rented Nissan Sentra, hunting mass market ("pocket") paperbacks. How many books fit into a Sentra? If there are no other passengers beyond the driver and his backpack, approximately 2600. A pretty tight pack job; the Canadian customs guy at the border actually called two of his pals out to the booth to have a look. Oh Christ, I thought, they're going to tear the car apart. But they just wanted to admire my handiwork, books stacked up inside like planks in a Tadashi Kawamata installation.

Corporate Thrift Store, above, used to be a great book scouting resource, but is now sadly no longer. For those not in the know, Corporate Thrift Store "partners" with local charities, paying a bulk rate for materials delivered by the charity to CTS' stores. CTS then re-prices the merchandise and makes a killing off shoppers laboring under the impression that all, or most, of their retail dollars are going to the charity, and not to Corporate Thrift Store.

I have some problems with this business model as a business owner, and as a citizen. But let's think dialectically for a moment, like a CTS PR flack. CTS obviously has expenses. Rent (the stores are huge, and sit on valuable urban properties); wages (lots of staff); storage and transportation (someone has to move all that merchandise from distribution center to individual store). And common sense suggests that most of what is donated to a charity -- any charity -- will be unsaleable crap. The charity will say, "Thanks," because it doesn't want to offend donors, but accepting used merchandise and being able to do anything with it are two entirely different things. I encounter this problem every day in my own business. "Why won't you take these out-of-date textbooks?" Well, because they're unsaleable, and if I fail to sell them, I incur a disposal cost in making them go away. So taking unsaleable merchandise for "free" often ends up being "not free," once the material goes to the landfill or the recycler, who charge for their service on a per-pound basis.

Let's be charitable and assume that 50% of what the "charity partner" delivers to CTS is unsaleable crap, which CTS must dispose of at a net cost. CTS still makes a killing when they negotiate the supply agreement. As CTS is a privately held business, the supply agreement is a trade secret. But having done more than a little research, my educated and not totally impartial guess is that it goes something like this:

CTS: We can offer you 10 cents a pound.

CHARITY PARTNER: Woo-hoo!

Notice how the supply agreeement detaches quantity from value. The charity partner doesn't really care about the total dollar value, because they have no economic investment in the goods they're supplying. After all, the goods are "free goods," collected by a staff of volunteers.

CTS, on the other hand, is now positioned to make out like a bandit. Do the math:

10 pounds of paperback books = approximately 50 books. Cost to CTS, $1.

Throw out 50% of the total as "unsaleable junk." 25 books remain.

Price those 25 books at CTS retail. Say 15 books are nothing special. $2/each. 5 are better quality. $3/each. 5 are "collectable" or rare. $5/each.

$30 + $15 + $25 = $70!

Don your CTS flak hat again. "Not all those books will sell. Some will sell at a discount (seniors' day; discount coupons; 'special promotions'). And we've got disposal costs, wages, rent..." So, let's be charitable and say that that $1 laid out returns not $70, but $50 to CTS' coffers. A mark-up of 5000%! Ka-ching!

These margins are insulting to CTS' "charity partners," and to those few CTS customers who still believe that CTS is a charity, or that the majority of CTS' profits go to charities.
 
I-5 playlist, Vancouver --> Tukwila, WA and return

Cee-Lo, Cee-Lo Green is The Soul Machine
Steely Dan, The Royal Scam
Cat Power, The Greatest
Al Green, The Absolute Best
Stephen Morrissey, Live at Earls Court
Marvin Gaye, What's Going On
Steely Dan, Two Against Nature
Charlie Parker, All Stars Live at the Royal Roost
Steely Dan, Aja
Gnarls Barkley, Saint Elsewhere
Marian McPartland, Piano Jazz (feat. Steely Dan)

Powered by Blogger

.post-title { display: none!important; }