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Closing the book on the Reading Room

I’ve written more than one premature obit for the Reading Room, the independent bookstore snuggled into a mop closet in Mandalay Place—it’s been more than a year since word first got out that the store would close. As the months passed and it stayed open, some of us crossed our fingers that the reprieve would be indefinite.

But on Thursday Reading Room employees confirmed the sad finality: July 17 will be the store’s last day, its space to be occupied shortly thereafter by another fine addition to the city’s culturescape, a yogurt shop. In anticipation of the closure, on Thursday the store had a table of books marked down by 50 percent off—the selection: not that great, actually—while an employee boxed others for return to the publishers. There were only a few customers when I was there, anyway.

The store is the victim of harsh fiscal realities—not just the shitty economy but the implacable math of commercial retail: A yogurt shop will probably make more money in that location. Frankly, the Reading Room always seemed a little out of place there, better positioned for attention-deficient tourists than for locals seeking an alternative to the suburban book chains. It was more than a little inconvenient as a single-purpose destination; you couldn’t just swing by. I suspect that most locals, like me, visited it when they were going to Mandalay for something else. (The prospect of a side trip to Reading Room always made the idea of lunch at Burger Bar easier to agree to.) There were always a few offbeat books there you couldn’t find at Borders, and the Reading Room had the good stuff on its shelves well before the chains, but you always had to negotiate with yourself, was it worth driving down to the Strip, hassling with parking, pushing through the mall … with Amazon just a click away …

Nonetheless, it’s saddening for all the reasons you expect me to mention: that Las Vegas can’t sustain an independent seller of new books; because it’s another pixel of evidence that, on so many cultural matters, casinos give and take away; that I’ll miss cruising its shelves with an expectation of surprise I rarely muster at Borders. Like I said, saddening, but that’s the way it goes, I guess. On Facebook, I tried to foment a groundswell of popular support to keep the Reading Room alive in another location (I offered my living room), but, you know, get real, Scott. It’s just a bookstore. But it will be missed, even by—or perhaps especially by—those of us who didn’t get over there as often as we could’ve.

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