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Get on the Bus: Bookstore Tourism

Six months ago Larry Portzline, a professor of writing and literature at Harrisburg Community College in Pennsylvania, started a grassroots movement called Bookstore Tourism—a series of bus trips to urban centers where reader-tourists can patronize independent bookstores. At the end of March, a group of readers from the Harrisburg area will travel approximately 200 miles to the 10th annual Virginia Festival of the Book, where they will participate in festival events (readings, book signings, seminars, and so on) and visit the many independent bookstores that are in Charlottesville, Virginia, including New Dominion Bookshop, the Book Cellar, and Blue Whale Books.

It all started last July, when Portzline organized another group of 45 book lovers to travel from Harrisburg to Manhattan to visit 18 bookstores in Greenwich Village. During the four-hour bus ride to the city, Portzline gave a presentation about competition in the bookselling industry. During the day, travelers visited landmark bookstores such as the Strand and Three Lives and Co., as well as niche stores that sell only cookbooks, foreign-language titles, children's books, or mysteries.

The group bought approximately 200 books and spent about $2,400. In the evening, they had dinner on the New Jersey waterfront. During the bus ride home, they watched You've Got Mail, the movie about an independent bookseller (Meg Ryan) who falls in love with the man who put her out of business (Tom Hanks).

Since then, Portzline has planned additional trips to New York City as well as a visit to Washington, D.C. But the professor is not looking to become a full-time travel agent. His goal is for people everywhere to take the initiative and plan their own bookstore tours. "If people think it's such a good idea, which they certainly seem to, then they need to get creative and do it," Portzline says. "One busload of book lovers pulling into town is great, but dozens of buses visiting independent bookstores all over the country—that would be incredible. And there's no reason it can't happen."

While the program stresses the importance of independent bookstores, Portzline says he does not wish to condemn the chain stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders, or online booksellers like Amazon.com.

"The last thing I want to do is politicize the issue," he says. "But there's no doubt that they're having a negative impact on the independents, so my hope is that more book lovers will support their smaller, neighborhood bookshops and help them to stay in business."

For more information on Bookstore Tourism or for tips on how to plan your own trip, visit the Web site at www.members.aol.com/bookstoretourism.

Jane Van Ingen is a Brooklyn–based freelance writer.

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Get on the Bus: Bookstore Tourism (January/February 2004)
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