Very few people had access to bookstores. Alex Madrigal writes of the state of the book business in 1931 in the Atlantic, based on a study by historian Kenneth C. Davis:
"In the entire country, there were only some four thousand places where a book could be purchased, and most of these were gift shops and stationary stores that carried only a few popular novels," Davis writes. "In reality, there were but five hundred or so legitimate bookstores that warranted regular visits from publishers' salesmen (and in 1931 they were all men). Of these five hundred, most were refined, old-fashioned 'carriage trade' stores catering to an elite clientele in the nation's twelve largest cities."
You've Got Mail and Amazon.com may still look messy .. but not so bad.