The January 13 Culture Club presented the continuing saga of William Rickman, president of the increasingly irrelevant Kroch's & Brentano's bookselling empire. Once again we hear of Mr. Rickman's wrenching decision to lay off more employees because he's unable to compete with the new philistines on the block. Meanwhile, his job remains secure (but perhaps if Kroch's management had been shaken up years ago, they wouldn't be in their present state).
Like countless other Chicagoans I put up for years with the clueless staff and routine arrogance that were Kroch's trademarks, until a December 1989 booksigning at one of their downtown stores. The store quickly ran out of stock of the author's book, then the clerks refused to allow customers to buy a copy down the street and bring it in to sign. Instead we were given signed bookplates and advised to return to the store the next week for the books, since they probably couldn't ship them to us by Christmas.
On that account I wrote a letter to the district manager, expecting he might have at least a bottom-line concern for customer relations, but I never received even a standard response.
Now I do most of my book shopping at Barbara's, Powell's, and Booksellers Row, as do many of my other friends who have soured on Kroch's. It's no coincidence that the versatile Barbara's has thrived while Kroch's has withered. If Rickman wants to pin the blame on someone for the decline of a local institution, I suggest he find himself a mirror.