Please Pay for all Magazines and Books Before Sitting at the Fountain.

Aficionados will recognize that sign as a longtime fixture of the soda fountain at the now defunct Steve’s Sundry.

Steve's Sundry

Steve’s closed their doors for the final time Tuesday, December 31, 2013.

The dire warning above was intended for any unscrupulous patron that might have dared to peruse a periodical while seated. If you ever cared to read while sipping your malt it required two trips to the checkout line: Pay for your magazine; Return to the counter; Eat; Walk up front and pay for your food.

Never mind the fact that you could thumb through Wired for hours if you stood at the magazine rack.

The lunch counter’s cash register had been mothballed many years ago, so the convenience of a single transaction was not available. But that sign remained. It was still posted right up to the day they closed the doors.

In the pre-Internet days Steve’s Sundry provided much of the reference material we take for granted today. The latest issue of the NADA Used Car Pricing Guide was kept under glass. It provided a chance to discover new car magazines- even exotic titles from Europe. Picking up the latest issue of Hemming’s Motor News from the magazine rack was a common errand. I can still remember buying the first issue that included an ad for my own business, Maduko Motori.

A trip to Steve’s was a part of my evening routine for many years. Sometimes I would make that trek up Harvard every week and often it would include a chocolate malt.

Last week I paid a visit to Steve’s just one last time. I wanted to pay my homage and have one more malt. I walked past the half empty shelves to the fountain and ordered a chocolate malt and a BLT. Then I picked up the last copy of Road & Track on the rack– and I almost… almost sat down.

The Last Supper
The Last Supper

Instead I paid for my magazine. Then I returned to the fountain and sat down to read about the latest Alfa Romeo they claim will be coming to our shores in 2014. I enjoyed my sandwich. When I was through I once again visited the register to pay for my food order. The only winner in that untidy exchange was the credit card processor.

It might sound trivial, but the quirky inconvenience at the lunch counter was indicative. While the local media bemoaned another Tulsa icon being shuttered the trend nationally has seen a rise in the local bookstore. The American Bookseller Association reported 2012 as a banner year for new retail outlets since the market bottomed in 2009. The death of the paper book has been exaggerated. And even if you chose digital it doesn’t mean the local joint has nothing to offer. It just depends on which local joint.

The neighborhood bookstore only appears to be a thing of the past if you make it so. Small shops pride themselves on customer service, personalized attention, etc. But some also offer e-readers, digital titles, even the option to download the e-book right there in the store. Shazam!

Many will mourn the passing of Steve’s and blame it on Kindles and Google and Starbucks and so on. But I think in some ways they killed themselves.

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