This past week was home to Independent Bookstore Day (April 24) and a few of our local bookstores held some interesting events for their shoppers. It got me thinking—how many people only visit bookstores for events? What are some ways we can support independent bookstores throughout the US more regularly?
Today I want to take some time to talk about why Independent Bookstores are important and I’m also going to highlight some of the coolest Indie bookstores I’ve seen throughout my research (and visited!) to maybe give you some inspiration on bookstores you can visit near you this summer.
3 Reasons Why Shopping Local Matters
1. Employees Know Their Stuff
You might be thinking, okay, but so does Amazon recommendations?… and that’s valid. But, when I shop online, I find so many books are recommended over and over to me and more often than not? They’re ones that are on the bestseller lists. There’s nothing wrong with this, per se, but I find that the same books pop up over and over and I get tired of seeing them—I’d prefer something new. This is where local bookstores come in.
Employees that work at indie bookstores know books better than any algorithm. They can tell you which books they’ve read, what they liked or didn’t like, and what they are seeing other customers buy. They can also give you recommendations of debut novels, local authors, and less popular books that might not be as easily advertised on sites like Amazon. And while I love a good 2-day prime shipping, supporting small debut authors is equally important.
2. The Money You Spend Goes to Real People in Your Community
As I said, I’m all for quick shipping and low prices, but Jeff Bezos doesn’t need anymore in his pocket. You know who does? The family running your local bookstore. So does the local author you just bought a book from. Or the employee who recommended it to you. Better yet, what about the girl scout who sells her cookies at the front counter? All of these causes are actual people and families that you’re supporting when you buy local.
What most people don’t realize is big box stores like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, etc, all charge authors a percentage of their profits to place their book on a shelf. The reasoning for this? They’re getting more publicity than they would if they tried to sell it themselves. When you support an indie bookstore, authors are getting more of their royalties and paying in less fees. Plus, the booksellers make a small percentage that can support their families, too. Let’s be real though, it’s so much better to spend your day at a bookstore, enjoying the ambiance and a cup of local coffee than it is to order a bestseller online and read at home.
3. Independent Bookstores Are Essential to the Community
How many times have you been to your local bookstore for an event? Maybe they’re having a used book sale to support the church down the street, or maybe they have an author visiting for a reading. Each event like this draws people in that might not have visited on say, a Tuesday afternoon.
These community events draw people in and help everyone to make new connections and friends. These connections can support the community in more ways than one. For example, if an author makes a connection with a local journalist that just so happens to have a connection with a big publisher. Community events can help bring people together in ways that no one would expect and the key to it? Independent local businesses.
Indie bookstores can be important for so many great reasons. These are just a few, but if you’re interested in learning more, check out this article by the Guardian.
Now that you’ve got a great idea about why bookstores are so important, where do we go from here? Well, a road trip, of course! Let’s talk about some of my favorite well-known indie bookstores (and a few lesser-known goldmines, too!)
4 Independent Bookstores to Visit This Summer
According to The Vacationer, over 67% of Americans travel over the summer. After all, there’s no better time to soak up the sunshine and take a road trip! No matter where you’re going, chances are there will be an independent bookstore not far away. Here are a handful of bookstores to check out if you’re in the area.
MIDTOWN SCHOLAR IN HARRISBURG, PA
As a PA Native, Midtown Scholar is one of my all-time favorite bookstores. Recommended to me by one of my college professors, I’ve lived an hour away my whole life and never knew it existed until a few years ago. This bookstore is so neat and has several levels of used, new, and rare books to check out. They also have a neat in-house coffee shop, a stage for local events, and they are pet friendly! Best of all, they are close-by to the Broadstreet Market and Midtown Cinema, which means you can spend your day (or weekend!) supporting other local businesses, as well.
POWELL’S BOOKS IN PORTLAND, OR
While I haven’t yet had the pleasure of visiting Powell’s in person, I’ve been a long time online customer. Powell’s Books prides itself on being the World’s Largest Independent Bookstore, and with hundreds of thousands of books and several different locations, I would certainly say they are! Powell’s is family owned and has migrated from Chicago to Portland over the years, becoming a third-generation business and a community cornerstone to everyone in the Portland area.
LITERATI BOOKS IN ANN ARBOR, MI
Winning bookstore of the year in 2019, Literati Books is certainly one to watch if you’re on the road looking for a good bookstore! Although the bookstore opened in 2013, it has quickly gained speed and is surrounded by Ann Arbor’s local culture and art. Literati prides itself on hiring booksellers that know their stuff so they can help you find the best book for your needs.
PROSPERO’S BOOKS AND MEDIA IN KANSAS CITY, MO
Located close to the downtown district and the Plaza, Prospero’s Books has become a community staple to both locals and tourists alike. With three floors of books and events like live music and art openings, you’ll have plenty of activities to do, no matter when you schedule your visit.
While these are just a handful of the many independent bookstores the US has to offer, you can check out some more local bookstores close to you by going to this article from Huffpost, or by doing a quick google search of bookstores in your state.
If you live in the US, what are some of your favorite independent bookstores to visit?
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