Tomorrow is Independent Bookstore Day!
Those who haven’t celebrated this holiday before may have a few questions. While I am not a bookseller and I have no affiliation with any bookseller, I do have a teensy bit of experience in buying books.
So, let’s consider a few basic questions:
What’s an independent bookstore?
An independent bookstore (frequently known as an “indie bookstore”) is exactly what it sounds like: it’s independently owned and operated. It’s not a chain, and it’s not an online behemoth (even though most indie bookstores these days have websites, Facebook pages, and other forms of online presence).
An indie bookstore is that lovely little shop where you can go in and browse, and helpful people who actually read the books can make recommendations. One of my favorite things in indie bookstores (aside from the people who run them and the books themselves) is the little note you often find attached to the book’s shelf, a note written by one of the shop employees who tells you why they liked this particular book or what kind of reader might enjoy it (“If you loved To Kill a Mockingbird, you’ll adore this book!”).
Being independent means being able to do things like this (photo posted on the Facebook page of That Book Store in Wethersfield, Connecticut):
But aren’t independent bookstores expensive?
Not necessarily. Here’s another sign from That Book Store:
If you mean, “Are their prices on a par with the online behemoth?”, the answer is, “Generally, no.” Before you let this steer you back to your computer, though, think for a moment. As I just said, indie bookstore employees actually read the books, which means they can tell you more about them than an algorithm. You can have a conversation with these folks. You can ask them questions. You can get suggestions beyond, “Other people who looked at this also bought. . . .” You can wander in and say, “There was this book I read a long time ago, and it was about this kid and he and some bugs lived inside this huge piece of fruit,” and an indie bookstore employee can say, “Sure! You mean James and the Giant Peach!”, and they can pull it off the shelf and hand it to you, and you can sit right down in one of their chairs and flip the pages and savor the memory.
And don’t underestimate that page-flipping experience. Online, you can only see what somebody else has decided you should see. In the store, you can take the book off the shelf. You can determine whether the print size is good for you. (For people of a certain age—namely, people my age—print size can be a dealbreaker. Over the years, I’ve acquired books that sounded interesting but which I simply couldn’t read without great effort because the type was so tiny.) You can feel it in your hand. You can flip through and read random pages, whichever pages you like. You can read the sixth chapter if you want to. You can look at the back cover, the author photo, the acknowledgements. At some bookstores, you can even get yourself a glass of wine and sit down with the book and read for a little bit, just to see if it’s a good fit.
In other words, the books may cost a couple bucks more, but you get what you pay for.
I already know what I want. Doesn’t it make more sense to save a few bucks with the online behemoth?
Depends what you mean by making sense. I’m a big fan of saving money, but I’m an even bigger fan of keeping small businesses in business. I love the fact that when I drive down Main Street (yes, my town has a Main Street), I see stores that have been there for decades, like Daybreak Coffee Roasters (which has been here since before a certain Seattle-based coffee shop came to town), Katz Hardware, and Emmy Lou’s—in addition to one of our newest arrivals, River Bend Bookshop. Places like these are what make a town feel like a hometown.
Spending money at an indie bookstore—even if it’s a little bit more than you’d pay online—has other advantages, like keeping your money in your community. I saw this recently, and it sums it all up:
Okay, fine. Other than the whole notion of keeping your money local, are there any other reasons to support an indie bookstore?
Absolutely! Indie bookstores are legendary for hosting author events, open mic nights for writers, and book clubs. Here’s one coming up at Book Club Bookstore & More in South Windsor, Connecticut:
At Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, all of the books by award-winning author and Parnassus Books co-owner Ann Patchett books are signed by the author herself. If you ask, she’ll even personalize them. Try to find that on the online behemoth’s website! (Plus, Parnassus has shop dogs who not only hang out at the store, but have actual jobs.
This is great for people who live near an actual brick-and-mortar bookstore, but I don’t have one anywhere near me.
Fret not, my friend! Many indie bookstores now offer online shopping. Also, if you have questions about your order, you can telephone the shop directly and ask them anything you want to know.
Physical books are so bulky. I prefer reading on my phone or my tablet. Doesn’t that mean I’m stuck with the online behemoth?
Not at all! Plenty of indie bookstores offer e-books. Many of them partner with Kobo, which has apps and e-readers. Just go to the website for the indie bookstore of your choice and enter your search; in some cases, all formats of the book will appear (including e-books), while other sites will have a separate set of search results for e-books. Other indie bookstore websites have a separate page just for e-books, and if you click on their e-book page, you can browse in exactly the same way as if you were looking for a print book.
I spend a lot of time commuting, and I’d rather have an audio book.
Then you’re in luck, because libro.fm will let you buy an audio book from your favorite indie bookseller. In fact, in celebration of Independent Bookstores Day 2019, libro.fm is offering some free audio books tomorrow only!
Call me crazy, but I’ve always preferred used books. You know, the kind where the pages are already worn and maybe even marked a little, and they have that special smell you only find in really old books.
You’re not crazy at all—and luckily, you don’t have to be left out of Independent Bookstore Day 2019 just because you enjoy used books. Here in Connecticut, we have several stores devoted to used books, including the famous Book Barn in Niantic where you can sell them the books you no longer wish to own (subject to their policies) so that somebody else can buy them. Then, you can spend hours (literally!) scoping out the grounds, with wandering paths leading from one book building to another. Where else can you find mysteries in a Haunted Book Shop?
This all sounds terrific, but I don’t know where to find an indie bookstore.
It just so happens that the people in charge of Independent Bookstore Day 2019 thought of that. Here on their site is a page that will list all the indie bookstores in the U.S. that are participating in IBD. As the IBD people are careful to point out, this is not a list of all the indie bookstores in the country, so you may very well stumble upon one that isn’t even here, and that’s great, too.
Here’s the bottom line, courtesy of award-winning author and indie bookstore co-owner, Ann Patchett:
“Consumers control the marketplace by deciding where to spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read the book. This is how we change the world: we grab hold of it. We change ourselves.”
Celebrate Independent Bookstore Day 2019 by supporting an independent bookstore!
P.S. I am not affiliated with any of the entities named in this post, nor will I receive any monetary or nonmonetary benefit from telling you about them, apart from the sheer pleasure of letting other readers know about all these cool places. Just in case you were wondering.