December 17, 2009 in Business

Laredo’s last bookstore closing doors

Nearly half of county’s residents lack literacy skills
Paul J. Weber Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

The B. Dalton bookstore in Laredo, Texas, is set to close.
(Full-size photo)

LAREDO, Texas – The final chapter has been written for the lone bookstore on the streets of Laredo.

With a population of nearly a quarter-million people, this city could soon be the largest in the nation without a single bookseller. The nearest store will be 150 miles away in San Antonio.

The B. Dalton store was never a community destination with comfy couches and an espresso bar, but its closing will create a literary void in a city with a high illiteracy rate. Industry analysts and book associations could not name a larger American city without a single bookseller.

“Corporate America considers Laredo kind of the backwater,” said the city’s most prolific author, Jerry Thompson, a professor at Texas A&M University International who has written more than 20 books.

The Laredo store is among 49 remaining B. Daltons nationwide that Barnes & Noble will close by next year. The company believes a bookstore is viable in Laredo and has identified a location for a large-format Barnes & Noble, but the space will not be available for at least 18 months, said David Deason, Barnes & Noble vice president of development.

Some worry that the closing could send a message that books and reading are not priorities in Laredo, a hot, steamy city of 230,000 that is choked by smog from trucks lining up at the border.

Nearly half of the population of Webb County, which includes Laredo, lacks basic literacy skills, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

But some bookstore supporters are undaunted.

Maria Soliz, Laredo Public Library director, is leading the charge to get a bookstore back. The city’s library system was already planning to open two more branches over the next two years to meet demand. That’s in addition to the two-story main library that serves about 400,000 visitors annually.

“It’s not reflective of the city that they’re closing,” Soliz said. “I know this city can support a bookstore.”

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