I’ve put off writing this piece as long as I could.
Saying goodbye to the Hastings chain, particularly the Conway, AR location, shouldn’t be any kind of challenge. Hastings was a business. They didn’t sell a unique commodity. What they did, others have and will do better. There’s no need to romanticize them or to mourn the death of a chain. They failed in the marketplace.
This is the cold, logical approach and it’s wrong. Of course there’s an emotional component to the closing of what, for my childhood through my college years, was my primary outlet for buying media. I’m definitely going to mourn the end of something that mattered deeply to me. Saying otherwise is garbage. What I must do is retell my history with them and say thanks.
See, without Hastings I never would’ve felt comfortable moving to Conway in the first place. I came from Houston, TX. There were countless megabookstores abounding there. I resented the idea of moving to a town without one. After all, bookstores were a safe haven in light of my rather dead social life. At least once a week I could look forward to the bookstore visits. Knowing such a place existed in Conway made me excited.
I remember fondly my first visit, back when the store was located in in Towne Centre. It had things other than books–it was a music/video/video game store–but I was focused on the printed word. I walked the aisles impressed. Sure it was far smaller than the BookStop I frequented, but it was still nice. It was brightly lit and exciting to be in.
The bloom would only stay on the rose as long as I wasn’t at the Little Rock bookstores. Once I visited those, I immediately saw it as a lesser store. They didn’t get in the books I wanted to read, which I should note tended to be crummy tie-in novels. Thus I viewed them as lesser. If I had decent taste I would’ve felt otherwise. All the same, they became the weaker option.
I didn’t live in Little Rock though and after 1997, I stopped having regular access to Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million when I stopped going to LR every weekend. Thus Hastings became my haven just in time for my period of isolation during my homeschooling years. While I might’ve preferred the bigger stores, Hastings gave me a place I could go when I had no other options. I first discovered so many things there, especially Marvel Comics books.
In 1999, the chain angered me when they built a new store. This angered me because I was led to believe the location would be a Books-A-Million by a neighbor. I still remember the rage I felt upon learning the truth. I can even remember details about that day, a sunny, hot August day.
This was ultimately ok. The new store was close enough I could safely ride my bike to it, which I would do frequently for the next two years. It became a habit for me to bike over on a Saturday morning, buy a book, and ride home to read it. Then, once I could drive, it became my routine to drive over, buy a book, and drive home to read it.
In college, the Hastings in Russellville was my escape spot. Since there weren’t any other bookstores, it was a place to go and find something new. I even had my first date at that store. Then, during the year I worked at the Dover Times, it was my treat after I finished my job.
In time I moved away from any nearby stores but I still drove to spots like Jacksonville and Benton to visit the chain. When I started dating Amanda, I once more frequented the store in Conway. I was a frequent visitor until the last days.
The thing is, the last days were pretty clear in retrospect. The chain struggled to adapt to the death of physical media. They went in heavy on video games and comics, but they never could compete with the established chains. They started buying back books and before long that was what dominated those shelves. (Most of the books were what would’ve formerly been called bargain books, for the record. Nobody believed 6 copies of one unwanted book just showed up.)
I went in just before Lola was born. I didn’t know the chain was closing but I still felt like it wasn’t what it was. On some level I had to know the end was coming. I lied to myself though. Just a few days later I was hyping them up. A few days later the end was announced.
And now they’re gone.
I’m left with very complex feelings about their closure. Because I’m not really mourning the chain as it was in 2016. As it was in 2016, it deserved to close. It had gone so far downhill from what it was. But I’m mourning the chain that I grew up with. I’m mourning my havens.
I’m also mourning the fact that media as I know it is changing. Physical media won’t exist as we know it within a few years. The advantages to digital media are becoming way too clear. As a result, it’s highly unlikely Lola will ever be as familiar with bookstores as I am. They’re becoming artifacts.
The world as we know it is changing. I honestly rather doubt college students in Russellville will care that the two bookstores in town have closed. They don’t watch movies from physical discs. This is my past. It’s not their present.
But I’ll remember. I’ll keep the stories alive. I was glad it was there. And with this, I say thanks and so long.