I was reminded this week of the slow but important work that so many in our community undertake to build and contribute to our city’s social infrastructure.
One of the most formative books I read before purchasing the store last year was “Palaces For The People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life”. Broadly, social infrastructure consists of the physical pieces of a community that help bring people together and build social capital. At its root is relationship, and “infrastructure” can be measured by how well it promotes and scales human relationships.
This type of infrastructure is formed by a mix of accessible, public spaces that collectively promote relationship and bring about the “small joys” that we often overlook or take for granted. They are an impromptu chat at the park, a cup of coffee with a friend, a neighborhood stroll with your family, or an after-school ice cream cone. If our interconnectedness defines us, then shouldn’t much of our time be spent pursuing it? More than ever, it’s important to name, then champion, the things that are restoring joy, not stealing it.
Two things have recently stirred this reflection. First, Amazon finally passed Walmart as the nation’s largest retailer. We are inundated with advertising, convenience, and pricing wars as the faceless world of mega-retail try to steal our attention and convert us to purchasers. We’re sold a story of job creation and low prices, a “new normal” where small, mom-and-pop stores can’t compete or even exist anymore. However, we ourselves sense a fast-growing fatigue, and in our little corner of the world, find that Main Street is thriving as the consumer refocuses on local.
Next, with Covid cases again on the rise, it seems the visible effects of fear and polarization have come soaring back to 2020 levels. We’re once again sorting ourselves into tribes and looking for enemies instead of friends. While disheartening, what each of us can control is where & how to focus our own intentional effort, and thus, seek to prop-up unity. We can cling to the small joys of each day, and for us, promote how our little shop contributes to civic unity and emotional well-being.
Our goal with the store has always been to create a community hub that is based around literacy and connection, while still offering a deeply personal, but tech-enabled experience. We’ve only become more resolute in our belief that people want to invest heavily in their neighborhood and that a strong independent bookstore can help glue a community.
Our happiest moments are seeing our own space contribute to your personal lives. Wednesday storytime, monthly book clubs, daily coffee meetings, support groups, or just a friendly chat with a bookseller — all of these move us closer to each other and break down the “us vs. them” walls that media and politics have unfortunately built.
Today, we’re deeply grateful to love and serve the place we call home, and to contribute a small sliver of positivity to our social infrastructure. Get outside, take a walk, call a friend, and find some hope in the magic of relationship (& reading).