For 25 years, Rainbow Books and Records built up a loyal following in Honolulu as a friendly place where folks could buy mostly used books, or sell their own books, music and movies. That’s why many are stunned to hear the bookstore is closing in September.
“It provided huge entertainment values for students and people of the neighborhood. And it fit the era and aura of the University,” said Carl Carroll, who stopped by earlier this week to pay his respects. Carroll used to own the The Book Cellar in downtown Honolulu, which shutdown in 1999, and knows a thing or two about the book biz. “I’m going to miss Tom and the store. I’m sad, but he doesn’t have a lot of choice.”
When Rainbow Books and Records opened on University Avenue in 1987, Tom Farley was one of its original four owners. Now, he’s the last one standing. “It’s kind of like a death in the family, the funeral is coming. Time to celebrate,” he says. “Already been grieving over it.”
So why close now? Like many businesses, Farley says it could no longer stay afloat during these tough economic times while losing sales to the Internet. “It’s the lack of 18 to 28 year olds who used to come in here. Dearth of young people. They get their stuff free, online–music and books, and DVDs.” On top of that, Farley says since 2007, the cost of his space, which he leases from Kamehameha Schools, has been going up each year.
25 years is a pretty good run for a bookstore that was named after the University of Hawaii sports teams. Farley credits its wide variety of subjects, from literature to its Hawaiian book section, for keeping it open so long.
On July 23, Farley posted this status update on the Rainbow Books and Records University Facebook page: “Well folks, after 25 years Rainbow Books & Records will be closing. Thanks for the support people, hope to see you soon.”
Ever since then, longtime customers like Dean Kobayashi, have been coming in with a familiar lament. “I feel sad. People here are friendly, helpful. Can’t beat the price.”
Recently, the entire Borders Books & Music chain, and another local bookstore, Book Rack, announced it was going out of business as well. Not the best news for folks who don’t take to e-books and still prefer to shop in bookstores.
“A digital reader isn’t the same,” says David Kupferman, who earned his doctorate in education at UH, and now teaches at the College of the Marshall Islands. He was disappointed to learn Rainbow Books was closing during a recent visit. “I love books. I love to smell ‘em, see ‘em, feel ‘em. Nothing better than opening a book and seeing the handwritten dedication. It means they had a life before me.”
When Rainbow Books and Records closes its doors on September 25, the little bookstore that was once a fixture in the Moiliili community will become just a memory. And for Tom Farley and his two longtime employees, it will be time to move onto another chapter in their lives.