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Newsletter #79 September November, 2007

Used Book Sale

        Every year our supply (oversupply) of used books gets larger. In addition to the piles of used books to the ceiling, we’ve been adding boxes on the floor for the surplus used paperbacks. We now have up to 25 boxes of used paperbacks per bay back at Uncle Edgar’s (with a list on the wall in each bay telling you which major author is located in which numbered box). This has made it easier for customers to find the used books they want, but has also made it more time-consuming for us to check fresh used books coming in, especially when the used book area is crowded with customers. If you are thinking about bringing in a lot of used mysteries during the sale, expect a long wait.
        All used books will be 20% off, whether you have a discount card or not. The sale includes used paperbacks, used hardcovers, used magazines, used audiobooks, used gaming books, and bagged books. The sale will run from Friday, August 31 through Sunday, September 9. We will be closed Monday, September 3, for Labor Day, but will be open our regular hours all other days. The sale will be for customers shopping in the store–it does not apply to mail orders.

Other Things For Sale

        We have some things that are moving too slowly and taking up too much space. We moved out some slower moving titles a couple of months ago to make more room for used hardcovers and trade paperbacks at Uncle Hugo’s. For the last couple of months we’ve had a display table of new young adult books marked 40% off and have sold quite a few of them, making more space in the regular young adult areas of Uncle Hugo’s and Uncle Edgar’s for better display of titles that sell better. We now need to make more room for Uncle Edgar’s used hardcovers. We’re going to start marking down the jigsaw puzzles and games in the front hallway, hoping to make enough room to eventually move the true crime hardcovers to that area and thus make more room to get more used mystery hardcovers off the floor and onto the shelves currently occupied by the true crime hardcovers.
        We used to be able to get a large variety of fantasy and science fiction jigsaw puzzles, and we did very well with them, but the jigsaw puzzle manufacturers stopped putting out new titles of interest to us and discontinued most older titles several years ago. While we still do fairly well with about 10% of the games we carry, the other 90% take up a lot of space and move very slowly. At the same time we start the used book sale, we’ll also start giving an extra 10% off all jigsaw puzzles and all games. At the beginning of October we’ll start giving an extra 20% off all jigsaws puzzles and all games. Around Thanksgiving we’ll mark any remaining jigsaw puzzles 40% off. At the same time, we’ll take off-sale the games we plan to continue to carry and mark down to 40% off the games we really want to get rid of.

How’s Business?

        On the national level, the U.S. Census Bureau reported recently that total bookstore sales had dropped for 12 months in a row compared to the same month the year before (and many of those year-before figures were also down from the year before that), while total retail figures were up. For the month of June, retail bookstore sales were down 6.6%, while total retail sales were up 3.8%. July will probably end the string of declines, thanks to Harry Potter.
        Locally, Orr Books closed down after 34 years in business and the entire Shinders chain went out of business. Borders is still trying to get out of their lease on Block E. (A salesman from Chicago recently said that Borders is trying to get out of leases for 4 of their stores in the Chicago area.)
        The Uncles have had 3 down months and 4 up months so far this year, and the total is up a bit from the same period last year. But business is still down compared to what it was before the road construction started in 2004, and is down a lot compared to our best year, which was 1994.
        The changes in the postage rates that hit May 14 has significantly decreased the amount of international mail order, as expected. But what came as a real shock was how much more it now costs to mail the Newsletter inside the U.S. For the last issue, we mailed out about 100 fewer copies than the previous issue, thanks to some people switching to the electronic version and thanks to other people moving without a forwarding address. But the cost of postage went up by about $450 to mail out 100 fewer copies. Please consider switching to the electronic version so we can save on postage, or letting us know if you no longer find the Newsletter useful.
        The city finally installed the trees around the middle of July that they were supposedly going to install in the Fall of 2005. No telling when they’ll get around the installing the bicycle stands that were also supposed to be installed in the Fall of 2005.
        Still no progress with the city regarding the damages done to the building during bridge construction, so it’s now turned over to our attorney. But we hope to have a new roof installed around the end of August, which should end the leaks we’ve had since the building was shaken so badly by the city compacting gravel into the hole between the foundation for the new bridge and the old roadway back in October, 2005.

35W Bridge Collapse
by Don Blyly

        I didn’t expect to write about this, but several out-of-town people wrote to expressed interest in what I’d put in the Newsletter about it, and we had to add an extra 8 pages to the Newsletter to fit in all the books, providing more space than expected for the thin column.
        Within about 15 minutes of the collapse, the first customer came in to say, “Have you heard about...”, and all of us who were working that night went to various internet sites to get the news.
        What I'm amazed at is how few people were killed. The Mississippi Queen paddlewheeler passed under the bridge with 60+ passengers, plus crew, a few minutes before the bridge collapsed. The north end of the bridge collapsed onto a train of tank cars, but it just so happened that none of the crushed tank cars had anything explosive or poisonous inside. The school bus full of little kids could have been in much worse shape if it had been a few seconds faster or slower. Since the collapse happened at 6:05 pm, it was possible for all the un-injured people to hop out of their cars and trucks and see well enough to help rescue the injured and those who went into the river, which would have been much more difficult 3 hours later.
        As far as we know, nobody associated with the stores was personally impacted by the collapse. Within a couple of days, it was easy to find out the names of the dead and missing, but I couldn’t find a list of the approximately one hundred people who were injured enough to go to one of the hospitals, so it’s possible some customers were among the injured.
        Of course, now that everybody who can be rescued has been rescued, the political foolishness has begun. Some theories I’ve encountered include left-wing claims that it collapsed because the war in Iraq didn't leave enough money for repairing bridges, right-wing claims that today's illegal workers from Mexico are responsible because they don't pay taxes, and a religious nut-case who said he was coming to town to demonstrate at the funerals of the victims, claiming that all the victims are going to hell because God brought down to bridge to punish Minneapolis for not being anti-gay.
        I've heard more reasonable theories, such as the fact that it was built as a 4-lane bridge in the 1960s to handle a maximum of 60,000 cars per day, but was expanded to a 8-lane bridge to handle 140,000 cars per day, without any additional re-enforcement of the support structure; the fact that the south end of the bridge was built on top of an industrial waste site, from which something like 15,000 tons of dirt was hauled away, mixed with wood chips, and run through an industrial boiler to burn out all the polluting chemicals in the late 1990s, again with no re-enforcement of the support structure; and that major cracks were found in the bridge last year and an outside consulting firm recommended bolting new iron beams across the cracks, but the Lt. Governor refused to follow that advice and instead insisted that the bridge just be re-inspected every 6 months instead of every year. (The current governor decided that political loyalty was more important than technical expertise in running MnDOT (Minnesota Department of Transportation) so he appointed his Lt. Governor to the position, and she’s done a fine job of saying what he wants instead of looking out for the best interests of her department.) At the time the bridge collapsed, it had been 14 months since she refused to make the recommended repairs and 14 months since the last inspection, even though she claimed she was going to have the bridge inspected every 6 months.
        The political shenanigans are really getting interesting now. In Minnesota there’s a vocal minority, mainly in the Republican party, who are very opposed to mass transit. After decades of working at it, the people in favor of increasing mass transit finally managed to get the first LRT (light rail transit) line opened from downtown Minneapolis through the airport and on to Mall of America. Use of the line has been far greater than even the most optimistic estimates had predicted. And as gasoline passed $3.00 per gallon, many people who hadn’t care much about transit started to realize that having better mass transit could benefit them as well as those who don’t own cars. Plans have been moving forward for two more commuter rail lines in the near future, and up to 27 lines are being studied for the more distant future. One of two near-term lines would go from downtown Minneapolis through the University of Minnesota campus to downtown St. Paul.
        About two weeks before the 35W bridge collapsed, it was announced that the bridge that had been planned for the LRT crossing of the Mississippi River could not handle the additional weight. Now that the 35W bridge needs to be rebuilt anyway, many people think that it would make sense to study whether adding an extra couple of lanes to the new bridge to handle LRT would be feasible. It seems to me that this would provide a route for the LRT at least as good as the original route (except for the Cedar-Riverside area on the west bank of the U of M, but the merchants in the Dinkytown area on the north side of the U of M would probably love to have it pass so close to them). But the anti-transit folks are trying to prevent any study of this option. They seem to think that if they can make crossing the river as expensive as possible for the LRT, the project will be so far over budget that it will be killed, and make other future lines more difficult. MnDOT is opposed to considering adding lanes for LRT to the new bridge. They want to start building as soon as possible, without studying anything, and without waiting to find out why the old bridge fell down. They want to rush into a contract that calls for construction to begin before the design work is finished, with frequent work order changes as the design plans evolve during construction. This tends to be faster and much more expensive than the traditional method of finishing the design work before construction begins. The rush seems to involve the fact that the Republican convention will be in St. Paul next year, and the assumption that all the reporters in town will find it hard to resist bringing people up-to-date on the bridge collapse as a way to fill air time during boring parts of the convention. The theory is that national TV coverage of a big hole where the bridge used to be would produce negative feelings towards all Republicans, while coverage of an almost-completed beautiful new bridge would get the public to have a positive feeling toward all Republicans. I’m not sure that I buy into that analysis of voter behavior, but if enough Democrats buy into it, we might see excessive delay for political reasons instead of reasonable delay to avoid being stuck with an overpriced white elephant for the next century.
        (Despite what Fox News and a few other national news sources were claiming in the days after the bridge collapse, the bridge did not connect downtown Minneapolis to St. Paul. The bridge ran straight north out of downtown, and St. Paul is many miles east of downtown Minneapolis. Kind of makes you wonder about the accuracy of all the reporting on Katrina and other news items, doesn’t it?)
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