Tuesday, December 6, 2016

REQUIEM FOR A BOOKSTORE - Hastings of Greenville, 1982-2016

  It's been over a month now since my favorite business on the planet shut down, and this is the first time I've really been able to bring myself to write about it in detail.  It's funny - I've had many establishments that I frequent go under over the years, but none of them have ever hit me as hard as the loss of our local Hastings store this October.  I drive by and see the sign still up outside, and it gut-punches me every time.  I poked my head in the other day because the doors were propped open, and I saw the building being gutted and remodeled for the next occupant (I hear it's a Planet Fitness, but that may just be a rumor).  It was like seeing a loved one opened up and spread out on the autopsy table.  I nearly cried.

   Hastings originally opened as a bookstore in the local mall the year I graduated high school, when Ronald Reagan was still "the new President."  At that time the mall had a Walden Books as well, and Hastings was just a place I stopped in occasionally.  But then in 1991 or so, they moved into a huge storefront that had been the "49-n-More" video store, remodeling it and enlarging it.  Suddenly there was this marvelous place that carried books, movies, and music!  Later on they added entire shelves full of fandom memorabilia, games and accessories, and all sorts of other neat products for those of us who live in Geek World.

    My first copies of Oblivion and Skyrim - my two favorite video games of all times?  From Hastings.  My "Hello, My name is Inigo Montoya" T-shirt? From Hastings.  My first Lindsey Stirling CD?  Hastings.  My wife's "Grumpy Cat" T-shirt and pillow?  You got it - Hastings again!

    And then there were the movies.  New releases every week, VHS at first, then VHS and DVD, and then DVD and BluRay.  A stunning variety of titles, too.  I am a complete and total movie nerd, so when I wanted to rent or purchase serious historical films - Spielberg's LINCOLN, or VON RICHTHOFEN AND BROWN, or FLYBOYS, or THE PATRIOT - Hastings had them all.  When I wanted something creepy that would give me trouble going to sleep at night - Hastings was the horror movie capitol of Texas!  Big budget films like JEEPERS CREEPERS, MIRRORS, SINISTER, THE RING, and INSIDIOUS were there for purchase or rental, but you could also find those marvelous, creepy little low-budget films that were often more creative, original, and scary than the big studio productions.  GRAVE ENCOUNTERS, COME BACK TO ME, ABSENTIA, THE HANGMAN - all of these films made for under $100,000, and yet each of them brilliant and terrifying in their own way.  All rented or bought at Hastings.

  And, I'll admit, I love really BAD movies too - low budget shlock with cheap CGI, ridiculous plots, bad acting, and cheesy monsters.  Want a cannibal mutant hillbilly movie?  Hastings had every  single one of the WRONG TURN flicks, plus the unspeakably awful THE BLOOD SHED.  Want goofy SyFy originals? They had all of the SHARKNADO movies, ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS ZOMBIES, and the truly bizarre NAZIS AT THE CENTER OF THE EARTH.  Hastings introduced me to the absolute weirdness that is Japanese science fiction with movies like MACHINE GIRL, TOKYO GORE POLICE, and perhaps the weirdest movie I have ever seen, HELLDRIVER.

   But the book section called to me again and again.  The wonderful bargain book shelves in the middle of the aisle were a history lover's dream.  Most of the new release historical books wound up there pretty quickly, and I purchased Presidential biographies, military histories, interesting monographs, wonderful coffee table books, and hundreds of other tomes that caught my eye, usually for well under $10.  During the last three months the store was open, my wife and I purchased over 100 books.  Most of mine were historical works of one sort or another, with a few pieces of fiction thrown in for good measure.  I got books on samurai warriors, books on Caribbean pirates (real ones, not Captain Jack Sparrow!), books on doomed whaling expeditions, analyses of Presidential elections, and the most amusing reference book of all time, THE GREAT BIG BOOK OF HORRIBLE THINGS.  In my classroom at school there is a massive set of bookshelves, 16 feet long and 7 feet high, nearly full of books - and over half of them are from Hastings (so are the shelves, purchased during the going out of business sale!).

   But it wasn't all non fiction.  New works by my favorite novelists - Harry Turtledove, Stephen King, Lincoln Preston and Douglas Child, George R.R. Martin, Stephen R. Donaldson - I snapped them up as soon as they came out, and consumed them like junk food for the brain!

   Over the last 20 years, I visited Hastings, on average, two or three times a week.  I rented movies on Friday, returned them on Saturday to get the early return credit, and then rented more.  I stopped by before my night class most Mondays, and on Tuesdays after work to see what the new releases were.  I knew most of the employees - Lennon and Holly, the two book managers, Joel, the store manager, Danielle and Brittany, who were never too busy to help me locate some obscure book or movie title.  This place was my personal "Cheers," the friendly local business where everybody knew my name.

    But it was as an author that Hastings became my true home.  I published my first book in 2014, and my very first book signing was there at the local store.  I sold 47 copies at Hastings that day, and 12 more that first weekend!  Not only that, but Joel worked with me on the consignment fee to make sure that I made a decent profit on every single book sold while still making some money for the store.  After a while I realized that I could come in and sign books any day of the week, on short notice.  And, when I wasn't there, they stocked signed copies of my novels - one title at first, then two, and finally three - right up next to the cash register, where shoppers could see them and grab one on the way out of the store.  I sold over well 400 books at the Greenville Hastings in just over two years.  Any author can tell you how much those kind of numbers mean.

  Now it's all gone.  This thriving local store was undone, not by slow business or flagging sales here in Greenville, but by mismanagement and poor decisions at the corporate level.  I walked in every single day during that last week the store was open, greeting my friends - they were no longer just Hastings employees, but almost a second family to me - and browsing the shelves, spending more than I could afford, trying to take as much of the store with me as I could before it was gone forever.  I have about 80 unread books of history upstairs, perched on a new set of Hastings bookshelves that I bought three days before the store shut its doors.  I have around 100 DVD movies waiting  to be watched, of various genres and titles.  And I have some marvelous memories of hanging out, browsing, recommending obscure movies to people, proudly pointing out my novels to total strangers, and generally enjoying my experiences in this unique store.  But I'd trade every book, every movie, every shelf and T-shirt to have my favorite store open again.  It's not meant to be, I guess.

   Ah, Hastings, we hardly knew ye.

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