One of my absolute favorite things is going to Brookline Booksmith, one of my local independent bookstores, and hearing the warped wood creak under my feet as I walk. I have no idea why, but it’s calming, and maybe even a little addicting. It’s much more welcoming than the plush carpeting of chain bookstores or the cold click of a mouse while browsing Amazon.
It’s hard to describe to someone why it’s worth it to forsake the convenience of a nearby Barnes & Noble to spend an extra hour traveling to the Booksmith to get something available in both stores, but it’s been my default setting for a while now, and if it’s possible to do the same by visiting a local independent bookstore, I definitely recommend it.
Although their numbers have dwindled considerably in recent years, independent bookstores–lovingly referred to as “indies”–still remain staples in their respective communities, and provide several things that chains like Barnes & Noble or websites like Amazon can’t even come close to. They’ve created a culture of their own that’s hard to replicate, and luckily for us, we get to revel in all of its glory.
Whether it’s offering fun activities for young readers like storytime and scavenger hunts, or hosting monthly book clubs and knitting circles, indies provide numerous opportunities to foster a love of reading and general artistic endeavors while also supporting the local community itself.
With events like She Can Do It: A Celebration of Super-Heroines!, an art show put on last month by Hub Comics that displayed local artists’ work; Eat, Drink, Color!, an adult coloring event with food, drinks, coloring, and a screening of The Goonies hosted by Trident Cafe; or a Bob’s Burgers viewing party (complete with burgers and fries) at Comicazi, independent bookstores provide an outlet for locals to showcase their own talents and passions, meet new people, and just have a fun and unique night out.
Because I live in the Boston area, these examples are from indies around me, but indies around the country and the world are guaranteed to have events like these, as well.
Another invaluable service indies offer is the opportunity to meet your favorite author. Chain bookstores and websites can’t or rarely do this, and meeting an author can be one of those experiences you remember forever, all thanks to your local indie.
I can’t even count the number of interactions I’ve had with authors thanks to independent bookstores and their amazing events series. From hearing Rainbow Rowell in conversation with David Levithan in a bookstore’s basement and going on a store-wide scavenger hunt while waiting in line to meet Jeff Kinney to complimenting Neil Patrick Harris on his family’s Halloween costumes and discussing the finer points of sketch comedy with Bob Odenkirk and David Cross–none of these would’ve been possible without independent bookstores, and I think being able to meet and interact with the people responsible for creating what you love helps instill, rekindle, or reinforce a love for reading.
An event that I wish I could’ve attended took place at Powell’s Books in Portland (you lucky Portlandians!)–John Darnielle, lead singer of the indie band The Mountain Goats, was in conversation about his new book Wolf in White Van with Matt Fraction, writer of A+ comics like Hawkeye, Sex Criminals, and Casanova. The idea of getting creators who are fans of each other to discuss their respective art forms is so cool, and something that independent bookstores regularly try to offer their patrons.
Chain bookstores aren’t on a must-see list when you visit different cities, but if you go to New York or Portland, you’d be remiss if you skipped a visit to the Strand or Powell’s. A recommendation list created by an algorithm based on previous purchases is no match for a bookseller excitedly saying they loved the book you’re about to purchase and giving off-the-cuff recommendations of similar books – or maybe a future favorite series you never would’ve known you needed in your life. Indies foster the creativity and passion that books inspire in the first place, and that’s something that needs to be protected and treasured as much as possible.
So hey, if you want to, check out IndieBound’s Indie Store Finder, see if there’s an indie near you, and start the process of finding your next favorite book… and hopefully bookstore, too.
Allison Racicot is the Audiobook Reviewer at Girls in Capes. She’s a recent graduate of Emerson College in Boston, and has a degree in Writing, Literature, and Publishing. She spends too much time listening to podcasts and getting overly attached to fictional characters.