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Did Elko’s one and only bookstore have to close?

We wish the answer was “no.” Saturday is your last chance to visit the shop, which has served residents well for the past quarter-century.

The family business was a welcome addition to our isolated city. Back when it opened, residents looking for a particular book would head to the Rancho Plaza and place their order, which was cheerfully filled within a week or so.

As the years progressed, more people started ordering their own books through online stores such as Amazon. Even more recently, shoppers could tap a few keys on their computer or tablet to instantly receive an electronic book, at less than the cover price.

Those are pretty big changes for any business to survive. Business magazines have run dozens of articles in recent years about how bookstores have been struggling to compete, as more and more fell victim to the “Amazon Effect.”

The phenomenon of online shopping has cut deep into not only bookstores but all sorts of general merchandise. Walmart has even had to close some of its stores in smaller markets because it can’t compete with Amazon.

The latest casualty in Elko is King’s, the Idaho-based variety store that has served Spring Creek for many years.

“With the advent of large-box retail stores and the internet, anyone with a computer can buy from millions of vendors around the world,” stated the company, which is closing after more than a century of serving the region.

The closure of Elko’s Bookstore has been in the works for several weeks, and the owner said no one was interested in purchasing it. An antique shop in the mall plans to move into the location.

Is Elko just too small to support a bookstore? In Twin Falls, where the market is nearly three times the size of Elko’s, there are three book stores – a Barnes & Noble,Deseret Books, and a mom-and-pop store.

Our city has seen the arrival of several stores in recent years that many residents never expected to come here. Books may be different, but even the retail book business was showing signs of a resurgence in some places.

“Printed book sales rise for first time in four years as ebooks decline,” declared one headline in May 2016.

According to a report from the American Booksellers Association in February 2016, the number of independent bookstores in the United States had increased 27 percent since 2009.

“Digital continues to be an incredibly important part of the industry, but it would appear there remains a special place in the consumer’s heart for aesthetic pleasure that printed books can bring,” Publishers Association chief executive Stephen Lotinga told The Guardian newspaper.

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Even Amazon itself started opening physical bookstores in select cities over the past year.

“For a bookstore to remain successful, it must improve ‘the experience of buying books,’” said a 2013 article in The Economist, quoting architect Alex Lifschutz. “The atmosphere is vital, he adds. Exteriors must buzz with activity, entrances must be full of eye-catching presentations and a bar and café is essential.”

Elko’s Bookstore tried adding a café.

“Physical bookstores still serve a vital role as showcases for books,” Alexandra Petri stated in the Washington Post. “Their ability to bring us into contact with hundreds of things we did not know we wanted is not to be underestimated.”

Elko’s Bookstore did that, too, but many customers would then go home and order what they had seen from Amazon.

The store put as much emphasis on used books as new ones. Customers could bring in their old books and receive a credit toward purchase of other used books – all they had to pay was the sales tax.

It was a good deal, but not the kind of deal that could pay the rent.

We plan to stop by one more time before they close, if only to say “thank you” for serving us for the past 26 years. We wish them luck in their future endeavors, and hope that one day “real” books make enough of a comeback to support a retail bookstore in Elko again.

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