A Prime opportunity

When I finished writing my last column, I didn’t have any real plans to visit an Amazon Books store. I didn’t even know where in Chicago the Amazon Books store was.

A week later, after wandering around Chicago’s north side, I stepped out of an Uber with my friend at 3441 Southport Ave, Chicago, and there it was.

My friend and I were in search of Book 1 in a series I wanted to start reading. It pains me to say that the other, small, independent bookstores nearby didn’t have the book in stock. So what’s even more convenient than waiting for free two-day shipping?

Google Maps said that it was a quick ride away. We had to go.

The Amazon Books store looks just like it does in the pictures. Inside, it’s surprisingly small, not even as large as one floor of Borders or Barnes and Noble. The sections are tiny (sometimes one bookcase-full), but all-encompassing. The feel of the shop is more akin to the Borders aesthetic – clean lines, dark accents – than the Barnes and Noble warmth. And there’s no Starbucks inside; instead, Amazon Books partners with Stumptown Coffee, a popular Seattle chain.

We arrived to the store at around 4 p.m. on a Friday, and it was relatively busy. The staff was friendlier than I’d imagined for a company that normally doesn’t specialize in in-person assistance.

The items available in the store are mostly books, plus some board games, the Kindle devices, and a few trinkets at the checkout line. Even though it’s called Amazon Books, I was still surprised by the lack of audiovisual merchandise; but who owns a physical copy of their movies anymore anyway?

One of the most surprising aspects of the store is the fact that there are no price tags on the items. Instead, you can scan barcodes with your Amazon phone app or with scanners placed around the store, to determine the price. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you get the discounted price. If not, the price of the item is the normal Amazon.com price.

When I approached the counter to pay for my book, I held out a twenty to the cashier.

“We are a card-only store,” she explained.

Once I swiped my credit card (the one associated with my Amazon account, as the employee advised), the card reader was able to determine that I was indeed a Prime member, and I got the discounted price. After the transaction, they emailed me my receipt.

After my visit, I can say that my opinion on the Amazon Books phenomenon has remained the same. Even if they wiped out the other bookstore chains of old, and even if they’re not as cozy as quaintly-upholstered independent bookstores, they’re home to books – tactile and paper – nonetheless.

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