When thinking about your local bookstore, what comes to mind? Is it a familiar friendly face greeting you as you walk in? Is it a sense of comfort and calm? There is a simple magic to independent bookstores, and they’re a refuge for many in the neighborhoods they serve, playing an important role in benefitting the community.
Local independent bookstores are vital pillars in the community. Writer’s Digest states that unlike big chain stores, “Independent bookstores directly serve the community and the individual. Their contributions are invaluable… Independent bookstores support core values of community, creativity, convening, civility, and contact.” They provide a place to connect with like-minded individuals and to feel recognized in a world where we often feel like just another face in the crowd, a safe haven of comfort in our ever more fast-paced world. Booksellers at indie bookstores focus on personalized service for each individual and fostering longstanding relationships with people in the community.
The Reader’s Loft, an independent bookstore in Green Bay, Wisconsin, has a mission statement that says, “Our goal at the Reader’s Loft is to create an atmosphere where people can come together to browse the shelves in search of something not yet known, to meet in our gathering space to discuss the latest book club pick, to hear poetry performed by our area’s fellowship of poets, or to meet a favorite author. We invite you to get lost in the stacks, to connect, and to grow.”
Thomas A. Lyons Fine Books in Neenah, Wisconsin, is another independent bookstore in the Fox Valley. This is their first year in a new storefront downtown location at 127 W. Wisconsin Avenue. Thomas Lyons is passionate about reading. After 25 years of collecting books, he opened his own shop which sells the best in new and select used books. They collaborate with E. Shaver Books in downtown Savannah, Georgia on offering collectible First Editions. Like the Reader’s Loft, they offer a community place for author events and support their local book festivals.
Indie bookstores are acclaimed for their support of new and local authors. Their titles have the chance to be featured in a way that big chain stores simply cannot provide. Many authors around the country are thankful to an independent bookstore for giving them their start.
Brick-and-mortar bookstores benefit authors, readers, and the local economy, too! “For every $100 you spend in a locally owned bookstore, $73 stays in the local economy, whereas $100 spent in national chains returns $43 to the local economy. Unsurprisingly $100 spent online to an out-of-state retailer returns zero dollars to our communities,” according to a newsletter from Roxanne Coady, owner of R. J. Julia, an independent bookstore in Madison, CT. This means that when you shop at a locally owned bookstore, more of your money stays in the community, providing more funds for the benefit and beautification of your neighborhood, and local businesses provide higher-paying jobs for people in the community. Supporting independent bookstores means supporting your friends and neighbors!
It can also mean supporting local charities. “Local businesses donate to charities at more than twice the rate of national chains,” according to the American Booksellers Association, and chances are the charities that your local businesses donate to will also be in the local community. Lyons’ bookstore and The Reader’s Loft have a long history of involvement with local book festivals like UntitledTown Book and Author Festival and Fox Cities Book Festival.
Shopping locally also helps protect the environment by producing less waste, requiring less transportation, and therefore reducing our carbon footprint. But shopping at an independent bookstore doesn’t have to mean sacrificing the convenience of online shopping. There is a tendency to think of indie bookstores and online shopping as being at odds with each other, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Today, many brick-and-mortar bookstores also have an online storefront. When buying books on the websites of Lyons Fine Books and The Readers Loft, there are options for both in-store pickup and shipment to your front door. Their website also offers opportunities to see the events calendar, learn about their book group program, see local book club picks, and find out more the bookstore. Independent bookstores recognize the importance of an online presence in today’s world and how it can go hand-in-hand with in-person bookselling.
IndieBound, a product of ongoing collaborations between the independent bookstore members of the American Booksellers Association, is another great way that customers can shop online and still support local bookstores. IndieBound “allows indie booksellers to communicate this vital role they play in their local economies and communities. It allows authors to show their dedication to indies nationwide, easily done through linking to thousands of indie bookstores through IndieBound.org. And it allows consumers to feel that their actions are a part of a larger picture—to know that their choices make a difference and that others are working toward the same goals.”
Independent bookstores continue to be fixtures in their communities, benefitting readers, authors, and communities as a whole, and like those they serve, each bookstore has its own unique personality. When you support local bookstores, you not only boost up the local economy, you also support their role as a safe haven, livelihood, and place to connect, because in the end, bookstores are not just shelves with books on them. The real heart of bookstores lies in the people that own, run, and use them.