Books: Rattling

The Chains Mom-and-pop shops lure the ambiance chasers

The customer at Politics & Prose, a busy bookstore in Chevy Chase, Md., is mightily perplexed. There is this book, she tells the manager, something about the impending economic disaster, written by a Chinese. At most chain bookstores, the personnel might be equally baffled. But the staffer at Politics & Prose thinks for a moment, and then, from among the shop's 20,000 titles, quickly produces a copy of The Great Depression of 1990 by Ravi Batra -- not a Chinese, to be sure, but the right book nonetheless. Sold.

That kind of encyclopedic knowledge, combined with personal attention, is one reason...

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