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Business and Labor
Charles McDaniels operates The Koop, a business located at the corner of Tenth and H Streets in Arcata, California.We gave JPR’s Humboldt County correspondent, Michael Joyce, a challenge. Go to one intersection in his hometown of Arcata, California -- and find a story on every corner. He picked the corner of Tenth and H streets.Not only did he find four fascinating stories -- he found businesses that illustrate some of the major questions affecting culture and commerce in the early 21st Century.Join Michael as he explores the personal stories and global issues he found on one small intersection in a northern California university town.

The Tin Can Mailman Reflects A Community's Changing Interests

Wadeth_Bory1_(1).jpg
Michael Joyce/JPR

One of the reasons I love books is I can go to my bookshelf, find an old friend, leaf through the pages, feel them - smell them - and reconnect with a memory -  or, in this case, a quote I’ve been trying to recall.

And here it is, from Henry Miller, highlighted and even with an exclamation point:

“We should read to give our souls a chance to luxuriate.”

And that means a good bookstore is like 5-star adventure travel for the soul.

Wadeth Bory: "I read a lot less now that I own the bookstore then I did before I had the bookstore."

Wadeth Bory remembers exactly how she felt when she bought the TinCan Mailman Bookstore on September 1st, 1999.

Wadeth Bory: "I was so excited. I was like a kid in the candy store. I went upstairs and looked at all of these books and thought: these are all mine! And I felt so wealthy; wealthy with information and knowledge. And then little did I realize what a huge task I was taking on and how little time I would actually have to read."

Having already worked at the bookstore for 6 years before she bought it means Wadeth has been part of this used and vintage bookstore for over half of it’s 40-year history.

Wadeth Bory: "When I started in 1993 it was a totally different bookstore. The clientele was different. The community was different. We sold things like westerns, old romances, and biographies of movie stars. We sold a lot of World War I & II books because we still had that generation. Nowadays it’s not like that at all. You don’t have that generation of people … You see a lot of different movements. Like w  hen I first started it was all about angels. And then UFO’s. And then it was low-carb diet books. And now it’s farm-to-table, back-to-the-earth, but with a hipster style."

Maybe because the number of independent bookstores has  been cut in half over the past two decades, or because less than 10-percent of all books are sold by such stores, many of us consider the internet the bane of their existence. But it’s much more nuanced -  and even paradoxical - than that.

Wadeth Bory:  "My contribution to the store was to bring our sales to the internet. It was the  year 2000 the internet was just starting to be a legitimate marketplace. Those were our golden days. We did terrific from 2000 to 2006. In 2007 it changed. That was the advent of e-books and Kindle. And sales just took a dive.  I started to get really worried,  but eventually it tapered off and it’s no so bad."

E-books are now about a third of all book sales in the US.  A Rasmussen phone survey last summer found that 3 out of 4 Americans prefer print over electronic reading, yet about half of us now own an e-reader or tablet. It seems many readers are selectively using both formats. 

For many of us it comes down to aesthetics: the very essence of reading … and of bookstores.

Doc Stull: "Because it evokes old,comfortable, grandma smells in the house memories."

Doc Stull has been a TinCan Mailman customer since 1979.

Doc Stull: "You don’t have serendipity much anymore. It’s just point-and-click, text-and-twitter world. And there you can just putter and look around . And you find these little magnets - these little gems -you wouldn’t think of. Because when you’re online you’re going after something specific, and maybe you’re looking around. But the actual physicality of walking around in the musty stacks it’s … a retreat into the past. It’s almost like a meditation."

The TinCan Mailman got it’s name from it’s original owner, Will Mauck, who had done some Peace Corp time in the south pacific down by Tonga. 

He became enamored with the story of an atoll that had no good anchorages and could only get"You're  mail if passing ships tossed sealed tin cans overboard filled with letters. A swimmer would go a mile out to retrieve the can. It became known as Tin Can Island. Eventually it got an airport and the delivery system became obsolete. 

But will old used bookstores like Tin Can Mailman become obsolete? WadethBory doesn’t think so. She feels Arcata not only has a strong community of readers but also a strong sense of supporting community businesses.

Wadeth Bory: "I’ll tell you one of the things I love about being there for so long.  I’ve seen little kids when they first came in and they’ll read ‘Goosebumps’; then they become teenagers and are  into ‘D&D’; then off to college and get into that existential mode and they read  Sartres and Camus. It’s really cool to watch an   evolution of a person through books. You’re tapping into the psyche of the town."

And what is Arcata reading? About 60-percent of TinCan Mailman sales are fiction, 30-percent nonfiction & reference, and 10-percent of sales are online.

Hear the rest of Michael's Tenth & H series ...