The Case for Independent Bookstores

Posted by Alex Oster on


Full disclosure: before I get too far into this post, I have to admit that I am biased. My literary career was launched at an independent bookstore, and after my time there I can never go back to the chain bookstore experience. In all fairness, though, that bookshop earned my loyalty for the reasons I’m about to lay out in this post. Here’s why indie bookstores are by far the best book-buying experience:

Reason #1: indie bookstores have more personality than the chain alternative.

Indie bookstores take on the personality of the booksellers that staff them. A good independent shop lets the booksellers have a hand in organizing the shop, choosing which books make it on specialty tables and end caps, and which books face out on the shelves. Staff recs and shelf talkers guide you as you browse the shelves, and the employees – who actually read and love the books they sell – are always eager to talk books and recommend a must-read. When you find a bookshop that complements your personality and a few trusted booksellers to keep you supplied with suggestions, you’re set for life. You’ll never lack an engaging book to read.

powells independent bookstores

Reason #2: independent bookstores become a part of the community.

Most indie stores do so much more than sell books. They host writers workshops, poetry clubs, and author events. They give local creatives a place to gather for a spoken word slam or a town hall meeting. They have open mic nights and book clubs and lectures. They take on and nurture the culture of their city, encouraging art and learning and community dialogue.

In the words of hip-hop artist Propaganda, “The presence of good art will unconsciously refine a community, and poor art will do it incalculable harm.” Because independent shops are integrated in their community, they have a finger on the pulse of the culture. They know what needs and concerns affect the people who live in their neighborhood, and they make thoughtful choices to serve those needs in the books they sell. Independent bookstores contribute to the flourishing of their community.

Reason #3: you’ll discover books you never would have found otherwise.

Independent bookstores do the hard work of ferreting out the underground, under-appreciated works of literature that will never crack the NY Times list. They build relationships with independent publishers and support the work of creatives who won’t make it big in mainstream culture. When book trends lead to thirteen YA trilogies about supernatural romance or eerily familiar volumes of mysteries involving psychotic housewives, an indie bookshop will have a fresh take on an overdone genre on hand, or an author with a completely new concept that changes your whole view of the world.

The world when I recommend a book that isn't on the NYT bestseller list

So, next time you’re itching for an engrossing read, don’t browse the bestseller list or ask Amazon what it suggest based on your purchase history. Take a chance on a brick-and-mortar shop staffed by quirky literaries who love books every bit as much as you do.

Shea is a thrifting guru and a DIY dreamer. She spends her days promoting books with the Nelson Books team, and her nights and weekends blogging, drinking coffee, and attempting everything from a new, made up recipe to an amateur oil change.

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