It does make a difference, but not for the reasons Russo lauds or Manjoo disparages.
Part of the value of independent bookstores as a whole is that there is a multitude of people controlling what’s bought, what’s promoted, and what’s displayed. Of course Walter Isaacson’s "Steve Jobs" is the same book everywhere. What’s different is what’s sitting on the display table next to "Steve Jobs." It absolutely matters where you buy your copy, not because of the book itself but because of what you’re exposed to while you’re shopping.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines culture as “the refinement of mind, tastes, and manners; artistic and intellectual development; the artistic and intellectual side of civilization; the cultivation or development of the mind.”
Culture, at a least a compelling one, develops when people are collectively engaged with a whole range of books, authors, artists, musicians, television shows, theater, magazines, etc. We would not consider an artistically robust culture to be one where everyone had been exposed to Matisse and Dali but no one else. The same is true of a literary culture: to have a good one, it is vital that a whole lot of people are reading, being exposed to, picking up, talking about, considering, engaging with, and blogging on a whole lot of books. In other words, more is more. In fact, more is critical.
All bookstores (with few exceptions) are going to stock and display the category killers: "Steve Jobs," Stephen King, "The Night Circus." They would be doing their customers and themselves a disservice if they didn’t. Farhad Manjoo’s assertion that there is “little that is ‘local’ about most local bookstores” is inaccurate: what makes a local bookstore “local,” and also relevant, is its reflection of the tastes, eccentricities, fads, and buying habits of the community it serves.