Do you remember the Yellow Pages? Or even phonebooks, for that matter? (Or wall phones?) They certainly weren’t perfect, but they tended to be updated yearly (at a great cost in trees). That meant that they tended to be almost up-to-date. You’d find the business you sought, and call them to ask for their hours, or directions. Now we rely on the internet, of course, and the number of businesses that you can find has exploded. And they open and close with bewildering rapidity. It took me a couple years of googling to figure out that Yelp was a rebranding of the Yellow Pages. I also feel sorry for any company that has to try to keep up with the current status of things. It does seem, though, that Yelp could use some help.
Although it might seem impossible, many businesses still exist without websites. And if you’re looking for a type of business in a specific city or town, you need to know, first of all, what’s there and what’s not. The big boxes are never a problem, of course. When I travel to a new location, however, I want to know what bookstores I’m likely to find. I’ve done this a number of times recently. Type in a city name and “bookstore.” (In the case of Reading, the city name didn’t help at all.) Yelp helpfully shows up at the top but it lists many establishments that have closed. Even some of those that are open are virtual and don’t have a store you can wander around. More than once I’ve come to a place only to discover there’s no longer anybody home.
Independent bookstores have been doing pretty well through the pandemic. Many people have rediscovered reading. Since they are seldom crowded, they feel like safe spaces during Covid. And chances are that people who hang out in bookstores have been vaccinated and will likely be wearing a mask. The problem is finding such places. I have to say that Pennsylvania seems to have a healthy population of bookstores. There are several in the Lehigh Valley and I’ve been pleased with the treasures I’ve discovered elsewhere as well. Finding them hasn’t always been easy. One of my favorite used bookstores here in the Valley folded during the pandemic. Fortunately there are others. Google maps sometimes work better than Yelp, but nothing beats getting out and exploring on your feet, except sitting at home later and reading what you’ve found.