Certain businesses make communities cohere. Small family-owned businesses such as diners, hardware stores, and bars are much more than spheres of commerce and profit. They are places where locals can chat, gossip, complain, celebrate, mourn, and bond. Acres of Books was an independent used bookstore that stood out as one of the few beacons of culture in Long Beach. Loyal customers would buy, donate, and spend hours ambling through its many semi-organized shelves panning for book gold. We all know what the internet and Amazon have done to independent bookstores. These days, any story about an independent bookstore might as well be titled Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
Writer/director Jedediah Laub-Klein’s short documentary, Death of an Independent, chronicles the last few months of its existence. Employees and loyal customers reflect on the impact Acres of Books had on them. One worker eloquently expresses the wonderful feeling book lovers experience when they get lost roaming through the shelves, the joy of flipping through pages, the feel of binding, and “the smell of thoughts.” When an Acres of Books loyalist declares that the place looks like it was “designed by a five-year-old,” it is meant in a loving way.
“Employees and loyal customers reflect on the impact Acres of Books had on them.”
But alas, Acres of Books is doomed. The owner’s granddaughter is not interested in running the business. The employees and customers interviewed are nostalgic even before the final clearance sale takes place. They all know Amazon has run up the score on used bookstores, and the city of Long Beach desperately wants Acres of Books gone so more overpriced condos can be built.
What makes Death of an Independent an enjoyable watch are the store’s eccentric employees — we all know people like this. Laub-Klein does a good job of capturing the melancholy the employees of Acres of Books feel as the end of its life nears. However, the documentary feels longer than its 48-minute runtime. It loses steam for the last fifteen or twenty minutes. It is never a good thing when a short subject feels long. While we can all relate to the heartache employees and those in the community, feel over the closing of a bookstore, or any small business, for that matter, there are only so many ways one can express and show how great a loss it will be for everyone.
Putting that aside, Death of an Independent offers us a glimpse of a shifting economy. But, unfortunately, the independent owner, whose love of the community is only rivaled by the community’s love of them, pays the price when such shifts occur. And while it feels long, the interviews are good, so it all averages out.
"…does a good job of capturing the melancholy the employees of Acres of Books feel..."