Don’t like what I’m hearing…

…about the bookstore in the new Visitor Center at Gettysburg.

Last night, I spoke with a couple good friends who live in town, one of whom visited the new VC last during the open house for locals.  Overall, he was very impressed with the facility, commenting that it reminded him of the Civil War Museum in Harrisburg Pa.  Most of his comments were positive.

However, when he gave his impressions of the bookstore therein, I didn’t like what I heard.  He estimated that there were only about half the titles carried in the new store compared to the old bookstore.  In addition, he noticed that “alternative history” titles are now being carried – like Newt Gingrich’s historical fiction book about Gettysburg.  In the old bookstore, alternative fiction was NOT offered.  There used to be a committee of Park Rangers who had to approve each new book, which helped protect the public from books of lesser quality – and alternative-type fictional works were never permitted.  The old VC bookstore was, in fact, about the only place in town that you didn’t find such works.

Now that Event Network is running the show there, apparently anything that sells is fine.  I assume that there is no longer any say in the matter by the Rangers or any other such approval committee.  It’s more about marketing than history, it seems, and if it’ll sell it gets on the shelf.

Lovely.

Hey, maybe we’ll be able to buy that book from the mid-90s or so, that explored what may have happened at Gettysburg had Lee’s army been armed with submachine guns!

Or that video from a few years ago (I think it was called The Confederate States of America) which was based on the idea of the south having won the war, and what it would be like to have two separate countries now.

I don’t think this bodes well for the VC bookstore.  I know, I know, everything eventually “must” bow to marketing pressure.  And they have to make money.  Yeah, I get it.  But Visitor Center bookstores have always been the last bastion for good historical non-fiction works, and now it seems as if this private-public partnership venture has opened the door to placing more importance on the bottom line.  At the Antietam bookstore, you won’t find books about who would have won the battle if McClellan had tanks (heck, he probably still would have lost!) and there aren’t any novels about the war had Jackson lived to be found in the Chancellorsville VC bookstore.  Since I hear Antietam is slated for a new VC in the near future, maybe that will change, and others are down the road.

As I posted previously, I’m reserving judgment on all of this until I get to visit the new facility myself next Friday.  But I don’t like some things I’m hearing about the bookstore.  I’m disappointed in how this management partnership is affecting some things, although I’ll wait until I can see it for myself.

Published in: on April 11, 2008 at 9:59 am  Comments (9)  

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  1. J. D.,

    Unfortunately, this is very consistent with what I had heard was going to be the case, which is that the store in the new VC was going to focus more on being a gift shop selling trinkets and stuff than a book store selling quality books on the Civil War. Evidently, someone decided that it was more important to sell junk than to sell pertinent scholarship.

    Sad, but true.

    I guess we will have to wait and see when Eastern National opens its own stand-alone bookstore, as I have heard it intends to do.

    Eric

  2. Eric,

    I too have heard that Eastern National plans to open its own store (somewhere out in the Gateway development area north of town). If I have to wade through plastic muskets, rubber swords, and vinyl kepis at the new VC bookstore in order to get to a smaller selection of non-fiction titles, I’ll be saving my money for Eastern National’s store. Or the Farnsworth House store.

    It probably won’t make a difference to Event Network – they’ll probably sell enough trinkets to make up for it, and they’ll be quite happy I’m sure.

    J.D.

  3. I won’t see the new VC until we’re all there in June so I’m trying not to pre judge it but frankly I’m not expecting too much from their bookstore from the early reports.

    I guess the bottom line is they’ve decided to focus on being more of a “gift shop” for the casual Gettysburg visitor than a real bookstore for the more serious students of the battle. From an economic standpoint it probably makes sense but I’ll also be more likely to end up at the Farnsworth House or the new Eastern National store.

    I hope I’m wrong but I’m not holding my breath.

  4. Unfortunately, Gettysburg Chatchkas have become big business. Which is a shame for the younger generation, IMHO as to me it is more important they read about the Civil War history that occurred there in 1863, than showing off a cap gun they got when they visited Gettysburg.

    At least those in charge have shown fine judgment and have refused to sell my well known treatment on Day 2 entitled Sickles Sucks. 🙂

    Hope all are well.

    Steve

  5. Well, I know that my books sold VERY well at the old Visitors Center, but they are not being carried by the new bookstore – very, very disappointing of course, but they feel they must cater to the masses, I guess.

  6. Scott,

    That’s a shame – see, your books are one that SHOULD be carried in there. They are factual, human interest vignettes about the campaign. They can carry Gingrich’s stuff, but not yours. Makes no sense.

    I don’t even know if they carry mine yet. Guess I’ll find out this weekend.

    J.D.

  7. JD (and everyone else) – If you do go to the Farnsworth Inn Bookstore, make sure you say “hi” To Bernadette Atkins for me! She’s the manager of the store (having managed the Eastern Nat’l store at the old VC). She was my interviewee for my most recent ‘medical department” column in The Civil War News and just seemed like a really delightful person with a passion for history.

    All My Best,

    Jim Schmidt

  8. Hey Jim,

    Yep, Bern started managing the Farnsworth store late last fall. She’s terrific, and I’m so glad she’s there. We had talked about her move several times last year, and I’m very happy she got the job. It’s a perfect fit, and I look forward to seeing what she’ll do with the place.

    The owners and I have discussed the idea of having author talks/seminars during the summer, just like the one Greystone used to do before they closed up their store. The owners purchased a property behind their current location, and they’re thinking of having such talks and books signings back there. I think it’s a terrific idea and I believe they would go over very well.

    J.D.

  9. Hi all,

    JD first of all thats great news about Farnworths buying the property behind the store! That makes great sense.

    I have gotten to the point that when I buy a book in Gettysburg 99% of the time it has been from GB..

    Sad to hear about the New VC though I am not surprised.

    Jim


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