Mall in the Family

While other downtown malls died, Boulderís was a real success story. But then came the chains and other Block-busters.

Now a Borders bookstore is slated for a site across the street from Foolish Craig's. Moelis is unsure of the fate of his building and is likely to move his restaurant to a spot down the street. He regards the future with a mixture of hope and fear. He knows that having chain stores in the neighborhood may help his business; he is also saddened by the changes he sees around him. "Things like the Cheesecake Factory -- it's scary for people like us," he says. "I have one restaurant, and this is my life right now. The Cheesecake Factory could suck up all the labor, all the customers. But I met my girlfriend at this restaurant. So whatever happens, it was worth it."

J. Nold Midyette and a partner own large stretches of Pearl Street, including the block currently occupied by the Cheesecake Factory and part of the block that Borders will move into. Midyette refused to comment on his role in the rapid chaining of downtown.

Tom Schantz of the Rue Morgue mystery bookstore has plenty to say about chains, however. "They broke ground for the mall the morning after my daughter was born," he says. "I left the hospital and went to the Aristocrat for a greasy-spoon breakfast. It's gone now, replaced by Banana Republic. So many places that were a vital part of downtown are gone. We used to have Bohemian Cafe, Sunshine, Hannah's vegetarian food over her shop -- those are the kinds of thing I lament the most.

Precious jewels: Mary and Naim Doost are closing their Gem and Jewelry Source.
Precious jewels: Mary and Naim Doost are closing their Gem and Jewelry Source.
Precious jewels: Mary and Naim Doost are closing their Gem and Jewelry Source.
James Bludworth
Precious jewels: Mary and Naim Doost are closing their Gem and Jewelry Source.

Details

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"As covered shopping malls begin to fail, chains are looking at downtowns again, if for no other reason than to be billboards for their mall stores," he continues. "We have four Gap stores downtown. I seriously doubt there's enough real business for them. Why would you come here to shop at the Gap? Seven malls on your way to Boulder have Gap stores. We used to have people from as far away as Gillette, Wyoming. They'd buy books from me, wine at the Wine Merchant, fresh bagels at the Bagel Bakery, because they didn't have those things at home. If the downtown gets too bland to attract shoppers, there might be some kind of reversal. In the meantime, how much of the town's character is essentially lost?

"A few years ago, I went to a book fair in San Diego. Next to the large hotel complex was an outdoor mall that looked like the downtown mall, but all newly constructed. As if they had taken a covered mall and just ripped the top off. As you walked along it, every single shop was a chain store except for one. It was at the very end. An antique store that sold nothing but signs from old San Diego businesses that had gone under. It was ironic. And sometimes I fear we're heading the same direction."


David Bolduc could write a book on what's gone wrong on the Pearl Street Mall. He's aware that the big chain bookstores have been putting independent booksellers like his Boulder Book Store out of business all over the country. He withstood the advent of Barnes & Noble several years ago (it is now located in a nearby shopping center) and has no intention of going quietly into the night if and when Borders opens five blocks away.

The sign on his office door reads "War Room."

Bolduc is a peaceable man, a Buddhist. He got into bookselling, he says, when it was still "somewhat a gentleperson's trade." But the relentless assault of chain bookstores has pressed him into action. "What brought us to the profession was some sense of how things should be," he says. "And when that's contradicted as wildly as it is now, we start getting a little bit upset."

Critics of chain bookstores say that not only do they ruin independents, they impoverish the culture at large. So powerful have they become that publishing houses consult them on what books to print. As a result, it is more difficult than ever before for a literary work to see publication. And since it's the independents who are willing to sell specialized, low-selling or eccentric books along with bestsellers, the primacy of chains makes it harder and harder for small presses and unusual books to survive.

Bolduc is motivated not just by a desire to save his business, but also by a sense that the world is out of whack. "The reason all this is happening is the extreme materialism of the culture," he says. "From the Buddhist point of view, these are the Dark Ages. Our heroes shouldn't be Bill Gates but Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama. We're in a spiritual crisis."

In the Sixties, Bolduc worked in a Los Angeles bookstore, selling books by such revolutionary authors as Franz Fanon, R.D. Laing and Eldridge Cleaver. Revolution is still on his mind. Recently he read an American history book called The Day the Revolution Began. "Less than 10 percent of the population supported having a separate country at the time," Bolduc reports. "The sentiment was in favor of reconciliation with England. It was Samuel Adams, with no resources except a vision of a united colonies, who kept pushing for confrontation. When it was over, he faded into obscurity. It makes you realize it doesn't take a lot of people to achieve something."

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