Laredo, TX has only one Christmas wish: a bookstore for its city

LatinaLista — It was just a couple of weeks before Christmas that the City of Laredo got the news that no man, woman or child should ever have to hear at this time of the year — the Grinch really does exist.

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But rather than steal Christmas, this Grinch wants to steal the last remaining bookstore in this city of over 200,000 Texas-Mexico border residents.

The city isn’t losing the B. Dalton bookstore because Laredoans don’t read. On the contrary, the store has been one of the most profitable according to David Deason, a vice-president of real estate for Barnes & Noble, parent company for B. Dalton. It’s just the hard economic times and the fact that bookstore companies are now switching to large-format bookstores that sell a la Super Wal-Mart with a variety of products beyond just books.

Why B. Dalton doesn’t think the City of Laredo could support a large-format store is insulting to a city that for the past two years has spearheaded a hugely successful citywide book initiative called One City One Book.

One City One Book tackles the two most pressing issues in the city: literacy and hunger. A book is chosen to be read by the entire city with book discussions and canned food drives held around the city. The finale of the event is a visit from the author of the chosen book. The event with the author is open to all Laredoans who participated in the book discussions and canned food drives.

In its first year, organizers say they collected 10 tons of food, and with B. Dalton being the only bookstore in the city that was the place people got their books, if they didn’t order them online.

The idea that people cannot go into a store and have the opportunity to browse through shelves of new books, hold them and teach children the joy of picking out a crisp new book, buying it and taking it home to be read over and over is an injustice that a city of that size, and responsible for such creative book initiatives, doesn’t deserve.

Luckily, there are some Laredoans who are not taking the news of their city being left without a bookstore without a fight. They’ve created a campaign intent on showing, not just bookstore companies, but the world that Laredo Reads.

Laredo Reads launched today with a web site and online petition to bring a bookstore to Laredo.

This evening, it’s expected that the Laredo City Council will pass a resolution also supporting the campaign. Just like the city comes together for its One City One Book initiative, the city is also coming together to “dispel the image of Laredo currently being portrayed in the national media as a backwards, uneducated community,” according to a Laredo Reads press release.

“This is a community who has embraced authors and literacy activities at every level,” said City of Laredo Mayor Raul G. Salinas. “I have been at the launch and culmination events of both of the City’s One City, One Book initiatives, and you cannot tell me that people in Laredo don’t read.

I saw the sea of faces – young and old – of people who wanted to get closer, get more information from the authors who had been brought in for the lectures, who had been participating in the various activities tied to the program and who were reading the books. I know that Laredoans read,” he concluded.

Already, the story has been picked up and appeared in the Wall Street Journal and Associated Press. Children have written letters to B. Dalton’s parent company to keep the bookstore at the local Mall Del Norte.

While people are quick to sympathize with Laredo, Laredo Reads organizers know that it could be a minimum of 18-24 months before anything happens.

…the committee understands that the sweet pleading letters from students and a stack load of petition signatures will not be enough to convince any corporation to come down to Laredo, and so Laredo Reads is also working closely with the Laredo Development Foundation, the Laredo Chamber of Commerce and the Mall Del Norte’s management to provide an economic picture of the true potential of what Laredo has to offer.
Many companies often overlook Laredo’s strategic position as a border city, a city with a population of only 230,000 citizens, that easily swells to about 350,000 on weekdays as people from Laredo’s sister city across the river, Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, come to work, study, shop and play. This doesn’t include the many more that come from further into Mexico, as well as the surrounding rural communities of Laredo, who come exclusively to shop and enjoy Laredo’s unique bicultural atmosphere. In fact, according to both the Laredo Chamber of Commerce and the Laredo Development Foundation, many of the retail stores in Laredo are often the companies’ top-performing stores in the country.

Historically, Laredo has had a poor literacy rate, high poverty rate, and according to the 2000 Census, only 15 percent of the city had a Bachelor’s Degree but things are turning around and the City of Laredo knows that the one true path for academic and personal success comes with literacy — and a hometown bookstore is a good way to help achieve that success and foster that love for the written word.

Everyone is invited to sign the online petition at Laredo Reads:

“Reading books illuminates our minds and our community. Sadly, that light is about to go out with the closure of Laredo’s only bookstore. Bookstores play a vital role in a community, helping to foster literacy, share knowledge, acquire information, spark curiosity and engage the imagination. Bookstores are wonderful resources for students, teachers, schools and other literacy related activities. No community should be without a bookstore. Keep the light and bring a
bookstore to Laredo. Add your voice to ours.”
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