I was sad to read about the closing of Olsson’s Books and Records in Washington D.C. When I lived in D.C., I worked two blocks from the Olsson’s downtown; I would drop in frequently during lunch, and spent an impressive fraction of my salary there.
While the prices and selection at Olsson’s were both competitive, most impressive and enjoyable was the staff: it was clear that everyone in the store loved books. They were able to provide relevant recommendations to me, after I became a “regular”, remembered my tastes and interests and were really good salesmen.
I’m sure that the “new” Barnes and Noble on 12th street had something to do with Olsson’s decline. Olsson’s probably couldn’t compete with the extended hours and the cafÃ©. I don’t want to malign the huge chains: I enjoy spending a couple hours in a mega-super-duper Barnes and Noble. I’ve noticed that when a new store opens, the staff is really helpful and knowledgeable. But after a year or so, the quality of staff at the information desk starts dropping, sometimes dramatically. How can you be a really helpful bookseller if you’ve never heard of St. Augustine or Orson Scott Card? Why can’t the mega-chains keep book-loving sales staff?