In perhaps the strongest protest yet against the Patriot Act, Bear Pond Books of Montpelier, Vt., has destroyed all its records of customer purchases so that it will be impossible to comply with potential demands from government agents made under the act. Co-owner Michael Katzenberg told PW that he asked WordStock, which tracks purchases for his discount club, to delete the records of all the titles, which dated back several years and were valid for 3,000 customers.
"We can keep a list of subscribers, but there's no other information other than the dollar amount," he said, adding that the system is not foolproof. Although WordStock got rid of the old records, every current purchase is still recorded. Katzenberg is working with WordStock to correct the problem, but until a solution is found, the store is distributing a flyer that explains its policy to customers and gives them the option of having the sale rung up manually so the title of the book won't be recorded.
"This wasn't all my idea," said Katzenberg. "It was supported by others in the store, and everyone is totally behind it. We've gotten more and more compliments from customers. We may have lost our marketing potential by doing this, but at the moment, that's the price we have to pay to safeguard people's privacy."
Many Vermont booksellers were supportive of Katzenberg. Mike De Santo, co-owner of the Book Rack and Children's Pages in nearby Winooski, told the Burlington Free Press, "I support what [Katzenberg] did, and I'm right there with him." Linda Ramsdell, owner of the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, said she has not purged her customer records, but erased a record upon a customer's request. Another Vermont bookseller, Josie Leavitt, co-owner of Flying Pig Books in Charlotte, keeps a list of customer purchases and said it is too useful to her to delete it. A member of ABFFE, Leavitt told the Free Press she would refuse to comply with a request under the Patriot Act. "That's what books are all about. Books represent freedom and if people can't read they're not free," she said.
The Patriot Act gives the government the power to seize bookstore and library records to check customers' and patrons' reading. A gag order in the legislation prevents bookstore owners and librarians from informing anyone about the seizures.