November 15, 2010

"Rare book dealers are in the business of buying low and selling high."


Painting by Linda Mitchell of Eureka Books

Painting by Linda Mitchell of Eureka Books

I was pleased and amused to see my hometown of Eureka, California show up in The New York Times this weekend. Amy Stewart, bestselling author of Wicked Plants and co-owner of the marvelous indie bookstore Eureka Books, wrote a Sunday op-ed describing how she became the unexpected recipient of 8 ounces of Humboldt County’s finest home grown bud when a local pot farmer used the bookstore as a fake return address for a failed shipment. The decision to use Eureka Books as a return address was most likely inspired by Stewart’s novel The Last Bookstore in America (available, ironically, only in eBook format) about a bookstore that survives the eBooks onslaught by dabbling in pot-dealing.

Stewart considered following in her fiction’s footsteps, but in the end decided against it:

Being retailers, we weren’t immune to the temptation to sell our windfall. One of our regular customers walked in just after we’d opened the package; he offered us enough cash to cover our rent through the end of the year. But although medical marijuana laws and a tolerant attitude by law enforcement make the drug practically legal here, we weren’t quite ready to take the next step and start dealing from behind the counter…

In the end, we didn’t smoke it or sell it or give it to our employees as a holiday bonus. We called the police and asked them to come pick it up. This is a laughable move in Humboldt, it was difficult to persuade the officer to bother making the trip down to the store at all, but we realized that we needed to establish some sort of plausible deniability before a drug-sniffing dog got a whiff of another package with our address on it.

Besides, the voters of California have made it clear they aren’t ready for a bookstore that sells pot–for now.

With eBooks taking over market share at a remarkable rate, everyone’s wondering how traditional bookstores can survive. In the very near future, all bookstores will be on the lookout for radical new means of creating revenue and staying alive. And they all might be grateful for the largesse of literary drug dealers with a sense of humor.