Just like any other type of shop, if we lose indie bookstores, we lose them. In the land of Shakespeare, the demise of indie bookstores is particularly sad, as many have been forced out of business by the rise of online and chain stores. Yet indie bookstores are run by people who truly love reading and get a thrill out of recommending a book they themselves have read. Many also offer cafes, loyalty cards, author evenings and even yoga classes above, to pay the bills. There’s something so cosy about an indie bookstore, so pay a few pounds extra to keep them in business!
Powell’s (Oregon) is the largest indie bookstore in the world, run by book nerds (the third generation owner says they don’t have ‘weird customers’, as everyone in Portland is a bit odd!) She says that if she were not running Powell’s, she would work in a library. England’s largest indie bookstore is Blackwell’s (Oxford). If you’ve never visited their online bookstore, take a look (we use their affiliate program, which pays better than Amazon and only sells books, not other items like fur). It’s way better, and once used, you’ll never go back if you don’t live a retail indie bookstore.
If you do shop for books online, download the free Bookindy app. It uses the technology of Amazon to search for books, then bounces you back to an indie store, with free delivery. Another online alternative is Bookshop (launched in the US and UK, you buy books online then the site donates to your chosen indie bookstore – again it runs a good affiliate program for bloggers and bookshop owners).
Books in Praise of Bookstores!
In Praise of Good Bookstores is an eloquent charming reflection on the importance of indie shops written by the directory of one of the finest indie bookshops in the world (in Chicago). His main argument is that indie bookstores don’t just sell books, but they enhance communities.
How to Resist Amazon and Why is a lovely little read, by another US indie bookshop owner. It makes sobering reading of why not to support the big stores, when small stores can still get books to you in 24 to 48 hours with no plastic packaging. The book includes an open letter to Jeff Bezos:
Small business owners are led to believe that if their idea is good enough, they can create more jobs. Yet your company is so big, so disruptive, so dominant, that it’s severely skewed the ability for us to do that. Maybe we can talk about it over pie and coffee at Ladybird Diner across the street, my treat. I’d love to show you around a vibrant community anchored by small businesses, here in Kansas, here on Earth.
Bookshop Tours of Britain is a slow-travel guide, taking in beaches, castles, coal mines and whisky distilleries, with a little bird-watching, hiking and canoeing thrown in. Journeying from the Jurassic Coast and over the mountains of Wales, then through industrial heartlands, up to the Highlands and back down through the Norfolk Broads and into London, this book champions indie bookshops.
Seven Types of People You Find in Bookshops is by a Scottish indie bookseller, who is fed up of the people that patronage his shop (a self-proclaimed grump, you’ll also meet his gormless but strangely likable assistant Hugo). The ‘locals’ include the expert, the occultist, the loiterer, the bearded pension, the not-so-silent traveller and the family historian.
A teenage girl who had been sitting by the fire reading for an hour, brought three Agatha Christie paperbacks to the counter: £8. She offered me a fiver and I refused, telling her the postage on Amazon alone would come to £7.40. She wandered off muttering about getting them from the library. Good luck about that: Wigtown library is full of computers and DVDs, and not a lot of books.
A woman spent 10 minutes looking around the shop, then told me she was a retired librarian. I suspect she thought that this was some sort of a bond. Not so. On the whole, booksellers dislike librarians. There is nothing they like more than (with no sense of irony) putting a plastic sleeve over the dust jacket, to protect it from the public’.
The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap is a lovely story of how one couple in the US (one a champion crocheter from Scotland) take to the mountains to set up a second-hand bookstore, knowing nothing of business, but have themselves, their animal friends and a love of books. Others though they were mad as Amazon Kindle was taking off. But not only do their success, they created something else: a community.
The idea begins with the idea to run a used bookstore with a cafe selling local food, and the store will have ‘beautiful wood floors that squeak when you walk across them’, big windows and ‘everyone will love us as colourful local characters’. Wendy tells Jack ‘You can wear a baggy sweater and push your glasses up your nose, and talk about Scotland’.
The Bookshop That Floated Away is the story of a woman who gave her business plan to a pinstriped bank manager (pictures of rats and moles in rowing boats to ask for a loan to buy a black-and-cream narrowboat and a small hoard of books). The manager said no. Nevertheless The Book Barge opened six months later and attracted a happy patronage of local readers, a growing number of eccentrics, and the odd moorhen. As she did not earn enough, the author chugged up the length and breadth of England bartering books for food, accommodation, bathroom facilities and cake. The barge suffered a flooded engine, went out to sea, got banned from Bristol and on several occasions, floated away altogether!