Titles and Names

     Yes, Virginia, there WAS a B. Dalton.  Sort of.

     I was discussing some icons of American kitchens the other day, and going over the fact that there WAS a Duncan Hines and a Chef Boyardee, while Betty Crocker was a marketing construct.  As this is not a food blog, as mentioned hereintofore, I don’t think there’s any need to cover that.  Besides, I am not going to get into a fight with doubters over whether there really is a Pillsbury Doughboy and whether he is taller than Lucky, the leprechaun who works the cereal trade.

     But as someone who has strolled along the streets of Chicago, popping in when possible at Powell’s or Kroch’s and Brentano’s, I thought I might explore the lesser-known question of bookstore names while a few still exist.  Most bookstores were named for people, with the exception, say, of Crown, named for headgear, Waldenbooks, named for a pond, or Amazon, named for a river or a warrior or something.  (Anyway, who remembers nowadays that Amazon started as a bookselling business?)

     Border’s was started by college kids Tom and Louis Borders in 1971.  It was a small, local chain in Michigan until it was bought out by Kmart, which had recently bought Waldenbooks as well.  Kmart, with much effort, was able to prove that running a bookstore and running a department store are different occupations.  After much national expansion, followed by international expansion, the chain shrank and dwindled until it was absorbed into Barnes & Noble.

     Barnes & Noble is an old-fashioned American business story, though there is a kind of regional divide in accounts of its history, some stories beginning with Arthur L. Hinds & Co. in New York in 1886 and some with Charles M. Barnes in Wheaton, Illinois in 1873.   Wikipedia says there was a Hinds & Noble period, but the official Barnes & Noble history leaves out Mr. Hinds and instead sees Barnes’s son moving to New York to team up with Gilbert Clifford Noble.  At that point, things become clearer, and it is obvious that these two chaps went a long way toward pioneering the modern bookstore.  All accounts agree they were the first store to pipe in Muzak, and a modern pioneer in encouraging people to loiter and read a while before buying.

     Rizzoli’s was started by Angelo Rizzoli in 1964, and operated in New York for a good decade or more until it thought about branching out.  The Chicago store, where I encountered it and its Rizzoli Gallery (and its unbelievably eccentric background music) opened in 1976.  The chain did not grow large, and was pulled back into the main New York location in this latest century.  They became more widely famous for their publishing business, which also continues today.

     I see we are running out of space, so some important Chicago bookstores will have to wait for a later installment.  Besides, although I THINK I now know the difference between Kroch’s and Brentano’s and the New York based Brentano’s, but I have yet to decipher the relationship between Oregon’s Powell’s and Chicago’s Powell’s.  Anyway, we now know there were….

     What’s that, Kafka Knish?  Oh, yes, B. Dalton!  Well, see, once upon a time there was a Dayton family which ran a department store chain called Dayton’s (later Dayton-Hudson and, by the way, the founders of a side business they called Target) and one of the five brothers in charge of the family firm thought a separate chain of bookstores would succeed.  His name was Bruce, but instead of calling the chain B. Dayton, he liked the sound of B. Dalton.  The chain became the largest purveyor of hardcover books in the United States, but the decline of the shopping mall led to it being sold to Barnes & Noble.  (But maybe you’ve heard of another little side business now known as GameStop.)  So yeah, there WAS a B. Dalton, but his name was…you get it.

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