In Defense of Independent Bookshops

As much as I enjoy visiting the local Barnes & Noble, I find it depressing that it’s the only bookshop in my city. It wasn’t always that way. We had several once upon a time, most of them being independently owned. Most of them flourished until our Barnes & Noble went from a modest single-story structure to a two-story book mecca complete with a Starbucks cafe. That’s hard to compete with, not to mention the added pressures from Amazon. What happened here isn’t an isolated incident. There are stories of many independents calling it quits because they can’t keep up with the corporate tide popping up all the time. However, not all hope is lost.

According to IndyStar, the number of American Booksellers Association members made a comeback from an all-time-low of 1,651 locations in 2009 to more than 2,320 in 2017. During this eight year span, the number of bookshops grew by nine in 2010 and 163 in 2011 before experiencing steady growth to more than 2,320 by 2017. I’m no economist, but these numbers speak for themselves. Instead of remaining victim to the rise of Amazon and its counterparts, independent booksellers refuse to be left behind. In addition, growth in number not only reflects resilience, but what readers really want.

Independent bookshops provide readers with a more personable experience that Amazon and Barnes & Noble can’t compete with. People who own and work in these shops are bibliophiles themselves, meaning they are going to know the merchandise inside and out. They can make recommendations based on interest or lead readers to new discoveries. It’s an adventure in itself. Not only that, but the atmosphere of these shops is different. It’s cozy. It’s comfortable. It has that coveted book smell. Readers aren’t going to get that online. I’ll also point out that no two bookshops are the same. They all seem to take on their own personality. Some shops might sell only children’s books while others might only sell used books. There’s a bookshop out there for everyone.

Independent bookshops are also important assets to the community. Many of these shops host author signings, book club meetings, themed events, story time for kids, and much more. What better way to bring people together than through books? In an age where technology is taking over, it’s nice to know there are spaces willing to bring people together in a positive way. It’s important to get out of your bubble sometimes and connect with others over a shared interest. Book people are the best kind of people, though I might be a bit biased.

So, the next time you get the itch to buy a new book, I encourage you to research your local shops first. If there’s more than one, make a list and visit them all. Treat it like a treasure hunt. Get to know the owners and the staff. They’ll be happy to see you return and they’ll probably remember your name. Don’t let your city be reduced to only one bookshop. Support the people who have made books their livelihood. Support local.

You can learn more about thriving bookshops here.

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