Independent Bookstore Day is "an all-day party."
On Sat. May 2, book lovers across the country will gather to praise the independent bookstore, not to bury it. It’s the second annual Independent Bookstore Day, and it marks an exciting new chapter in a story that once seemed fated to a tragic end out of a Nicholas Sparks novel.
But from an improving economy to the burgeoning “shop local” movement to the demise of the Borders big box chain, independent bookstores are enjoying a national resurgence.
The Northern California Independent Booksellers Association created independent Bookstore Day—formerly California Bookstore Day--. Ninety-three California booksellers participated. This year’s event will comprise about 400 stores nationwide.
“We want to underscore what’s happening in the last five years and change the narrative about the so-called dying independent bookstore,” Hut Landon, NCIBA’s executive director told Millionaire Corner in a phone interview.
They said the same thing about independent record stores, too, but they have changed their tune as sales of vinyl albums have surged from 857,000 copies in 2005 to more than nine million last year, according to Billboard.
Independent Bookstore, in fact, took its inspiration from Independent Record Store Day. An NCIBA bookstore had a record and music section and signed up to participate, Landon said. The retailer was so astonished by the response that he suggested his independent bookstore brethren should have a day of their own.
Echoing one of Independent Record Store Day’s greatest hits, participating stores in Independent Bookstore Day will be offering specific, one-of-a-kind literary items created for this day. These include signed prints by graphic novelist Chris Ware and Dav Piley, creator of Captain Underpants, a Roz Chast tote bag and a set of tea towels with sayings by authors Lemony Snicket and Pat Conroy. “It’s an all-day party,” Landon said.
Six years ago, it seemed the party was coming to an end. In the depths of the recession, membership in the American Booksellers Association dropped to 1,401 members, according to Landon. It’s back up to 2,000 now. In the last four-to-five years, about 100 new stores have opened.
Landon attributes several factors that have brought about independent bookstore’s turnaround. One is a new, more social media- and business-savvy business owner (and here, Landon gives the ABA kudos for its twice-a-year educational sessions that afford booksellers across the country to come together, network and share ideas). “The new stores are run by smart businesspeople who come in with open eyes,” he said. “They really know what they’re doing.”
Another is the closing of the Borders big box chain, which benefited independent booksellers. “(Indie booksellers) have been at the forefront in ‘shop local’ movements,” Landon said. “They are viewed as community gathering places because of their (author) events and programs.”
And what brings them back, Landon said, is book knowledge, passion, and personalized service. “Chain stores are selling product,” he said. “We want to sell you right book (not just the latest Stephen King bestseller). Independent bookstore staff gets to know the people in the community and their reading tastes. It’s based on experience, not algorithms.”
The desire for community and mingling with like-minded book lovers is luring people away from the Internet, Landon said. “More and more we are hearing from people that they have done the ‘online thing,’ but missed going out, being in the neighborhood, picking up a book and browsing in a physical store.
As for booksellers themselves, they feel their stores are part of something larger. Nina Garrett, co-owner of Bookends and Beginnings, a participating bookstore located in Evanston, IL, observed, “We feel like not only have we built a little nest in the middle of Evanston, but that we have now joined this national community. The resurgence of the independent bookstore is not a myth. It is absolutely going on. There is this tremendous energy and exhilaration. This is a big comeback.”
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.